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A critical examination of the relevance of John Wesley’s economic ethics in contemporary South Africa with specific reference to unemployment, poverty and inequality.

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John Wesley did not specifically seek to propose structured “economic ethics”, but rather was the chief tutor to the people called Methodists on the economic ordering of their lives during 18th century England. While Wesley taught and preached among the poor, he never pronounced on the Elizabethan Poor Laws, the most comprehensive yet poorly implemented government sponsored program aimed at fighting poverty. The study notes that John Wesley’s mother, Suzanna Wesley, had an immense influence on him. Since she was a conformist as John later became, choosing to turn a blind eye to inefficiencies in the state. It is from this context that his ethics emerged. Consequently, the purpose of this study is to illumine his economics ethics. Conditions of unemployment, poverty and inequality in contemporary South Africa will also be illumined in the study. This study argues that while Wesley’s teachings may appear primordial, they can be appropriated to the current situation in South Africa. Specifically, the study argues that John Wesley’s economic ethics are premised on the four economic principles of the need for government intervention, honest and life-enhancing work, poverty alleviation and the equitable distribution of wealth. Furthermore, the study concludes that these principles remain relevant and can be appropriated to contemporary South Africa in addressing the socio-economic contexts of unemployment, poverty and inequality. On the basis of this appropriation, the study develops three propositions: a political dispensation which focuses on employment creation, the building of an inclusive economy, and mobilization for social cohesion.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.