Since the transition to democracy began in the early 1990s, the South African political settlement has ushered into policy a progressive framework for the realisation of socio-economic rights, enshrined by the Constitution. However, this political settlement has failed to translate into an economic and social settlement that would see access to livelihood strategies and equitable access to service delivery improve in a manner that addresses historical grievances. As a result, these core issues of conflict underlying South Africa’s transition render a fragile social contract – vulnerable to divisions of stark inequality along race, class and gender lines. Tracing these two core conflict issues through historical and current analysis, this paper argues that the interaction of the political settlement and the ability of institutions to deliver services effectively has negatively affected state-society relations and the legitimacy of the reconciliation agenda meant to support inter-group cohesion.

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