As social pacts blossom, it’s worth remembering Einstein’s oft-quoted definition of insanity as repeating the same thing while expecting different results. Bearing down on the nation are an investment summit, a financial summit, a review of the Mining Charter and a jobs summit. Yet democratic SA already trails a long line of pacts, including the 1999 jobs summit, the 2004 growth and development summit, the 2008 framework agreement for the global financial crisis, and various agreements from about 2012 on youth employment and local procurement. Despite these serial commitments to work together for inclusive growth, SA still ranks among the most unequal countries in the world. If we don’t do more to understand why past agreements succeeded or failed, more pacts risk undermining social trust rather than reinforcing it. Pacts are best understood as an effort to manage the disconnect between political democracy and economic power. The Constitution gives every citizen a vote, but economic...

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