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Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape

Realising socio-economic rights in the South African Constitution:
The obligations of local government

A guide for municipalities

Christopher Mbazira

Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape

July 2006

SARPN acknowledges the Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape as a source of this document.
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Are socio-economic rights human rights?

Human rights are the fundamental liberties that protect the individual not only against intrusive exercise of state power but also against intrusion from other individuals or corporate entities. They also guarantee some entitlements, which individuals can demand from the state. Human rights have been grouped into two broad categories. The first category comprises the so-called civil and political rights, which guarantee individual civil and political liberties. They include rights such as the right to life, freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, right to vote and freedom of movement, amongst others.

The second category is the economic, social and cultural rights (socio- economic rights). Socio-economic rights are those entitlements and claims that guarantee people’s economic and social well-being such as food, shelter, healthcare services, water, education and a clean and healthy environment. The state has a moral and legal duty to ensure that all people have access to these basic goods and services. These obligations are most effectively discharged when transformed into rights that an individual may demand. The South African Constitution enshrines both socio-economic and civil and political rights in the Bill of Rights. The Constitution also imposes a duty on the state and all its organs to respect, protect, promote and fulfil these rights. To a limited extent, private individuals and corporate entities are also bound to respect such rights.

The South African Constitution does away with the traditional distinction between categories of human rights. It recognises the fact that all human rights are interdependent, interconnected and interrelated. The relationship between the different human rights is symbiotic; no right can survive without another. Though this publication concentrates on socio-economic rights, civil and political rights are equally important in enhancing the quality of life.

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