Just back from two fascinating weeks in South Africa. One of the most striking features of the current scene there is the series of demonstrations, some accompanied by lawbreaking or even violence, around "service delivery" issues. In one recent instance, according to Helen Zille, the leader of the largest South African opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, people who had been assigned quite large plots of land for future houses, but had had to wait a long time to receive the government funds with which to build, had in the meantime permitted other people to move into their "back yards." Now the government money has come, the original recipients of the lots are ready to build, and they want to evict the backyarders. The backyarders in turn are demonstrating. Justice Sachs had similar dilemmas in mind when he wrote, in his judgment in Residents of Joe Slovo Community, Western Cape v Thubelisha Homes and Others (Constitutional Court, CCT 22/08, decided 10 June 2009), that "[t]his is not a matter in which formal legal logic alone can solve the conundrum of how to do justice to the one side without imposing a measure of injustice on the other.... In many circumstances, instead of seeking to find a totally 'right' or 'correct' solution, the judiciary will be obliged to accept the intellectually more modest role of managing tensions between competing legitimate claims, in as balanced, fair and principled a manner as possible." (Paragraphs 332 - 33). (On this and other scores, Residents of Joe Slovo is a remarkable case, which I'm going to talk about in coming posts.)
But as intractable as such problems seem, what's also remarkable is the efforts of dedicated people to address them. So another recent story discusses the efforts in South Africa to treat the increasing number of people suffering from drug-resistant TB. South African laws permit, essentially, locking such people up -- but that response generates many problems of its own, not least that people suffering from the disease are hardly likely to present themselves for treatment if the result will be their involuntary confinement. So now South Africa is trying a new approach, in which the patients remain in their homes, and case workers thread their way through the shanty towns of South Africa to meet and assist individual sufferers -- so far, it seems, with success. Celia W. Dugger, "Khayelitsha Journal: New Effort to Fight TB in South Africa," N.Y. Times, July 28, 2009.