Alleviating Poverty in South Africa Through Meaningful Change

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CAPE TOWN — Reducing poverty remains a global challenge and South Africa has seen its share of struggle. The fight against poverty in the country is counted among the country’s so-called “triple threat” along with inequality and unemployment. Opportunity and progress are too often crippled by the legacy of apartheid in the country.

According to latest figures by Statistics South Africa (SSA), the country’s national statistical service, 30 million South Africans are living in extreme poverty. For them, alleviating poverty in South Africa remains a distant dream.

Most of the affected groups include black Africans, females, rural populations, those lacking education and residents of Eastern Cape and Limpopo.

“This points to a very serious problem for children, they bear the burden of poverty, in terms of unemployment the youth bear the burden, so they graduate from poverty as children into being unemployed as youth,” SSA statistician general Pali Lehohla said.

Earlier this year, the World Bank projected a modest cyclical recovery for South Africa, noting that economic growth remained at a modest 1.1 percent for 2017. Negative per capita growth underlined the triple threat facing the country. The World Bank also noted that pervasive inequality in the country was the highest in the world.

Further progress in the implementation of the National Development Plan to achieve South Africa’s Vision 2030, which has been the country’s blueprint for eliminating poverty and reducing inequality, was also encouraged.

There were some improvements in the past when alleviating poverty in South Africa was seeing a steady decline between 2006 and 2011. The World Bank recognized South Africa’s efforts in reducing poverty in 2014, stating that 3.6 million had been lifted out of poverty.

According to the new SSA report, however, the number of people living in poverty has since increased by three million to a total of 30 million in 2015. Today, about 21.7 percent of South Africans are unable to pay for basic nutritional requirements and live on $1.25 or less per day, an international benchmark of extreme poverty.

Females were found to be more exposed to poverty. Correlation between a higher prevalence of poverty and a female head of household reflected the sad reality that many women are not afforded equal education opportunities.

“If a family is female-headed, the depth, the strength of poverty increases dramatically and we can see 17 percentage points difference from a female headed household compared to a male headed one,” Lehohla explained.

Additionally, rural households were found to experience greater poverty than urban households, with the poverty gap increasing to 32.1 percent in rural areas and to 11.4 percent in urban areas in 2015. Poor households spent 30 percent of their total expenditure on food compared to just 10.5 percent in non-poor households.

A significant disparity was also discovered between people of different races and colors. Since 2006, the white, Indian and Asian populations had a very low poverty gap at 2.2 percent or less compared to their black Africans counterparts. White-headed households also spent five times more than black African-headed households and have a three-times-greater average annual household expenditure than the national average.

Alleviating poverty in South Africa depends on a great extent on the country’s social grant system. A large proportion of social spending in the country goes towards social grants administered by the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and received by more than 17 million South Africans.

SASSA is mandated by the South African Social Security Agency Act of 2004 Act to “ensure the provision of comprehensive social security services against vulnerability and poverty within the constitutional legislative framework.”

The social grants benefit mostly poor and vulnerable households, especially young children. In the 2017-2018 financial year, total expenditure on the grants is expected to amount to more than $11.5 billion.

Main types of grant disbursed include an old age grant for pensioners over 60, a disability and care dependency grant, a foster care grant and a child support grant.

More than just supporting beneficiaries, social grants are used to sustain economies of small towns and villages and keep a steady stream of income for local residents. They specifically address inequalities in income distribution and preserve wealth after all income is consumed.

tThe SSA report emphasized the positive impacts of the social grant packages (called ‘social wage’), stating that access to better services and facilities was a key component in declining multidimensional poverty, which stemmed from “a combination of international and domestic factors such as stagnant economic growth, increasing unemployment, higher prices, poor consumer confidence, an unstable policy environment and low commodity prices.”

Education remains a key component in alleviating poverty in South Africa. The SSA report said that only 8.4 percent of people with tertiary qualifications are poor compared to 35 percent with a basic education and a staggering 79 percent with no education at all. It noted that a person’s employability depends on education levels.

The SSA report will help the government in alleviating poverty in South Africa by informing its official policy on important issues like social grants. While it provides an important perspective on the gains made in the anti-poverty fight, it also underscores the stark reality that the government still has much more to do in eradicating poverty and making life better for all South Africans, regardless of race, color, gender and other classifications in this post-apartheid era.

Mohammed Khalid
Photo: Flickr

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Mohammed Khalid

Mohammed Khalid writes for The Borgen Project from the quiet suburbs of Maryland. His personal and academic interests include journalism, cybersecurity, counterterrorism, writing, and constitutional and immigration law. Mohammed was born in the United Arab Emirates and grew up in both Pakistan and the United States. He is passionately (and perpetually) involved in building empathy by engaging with others and learning about their lives and stories.

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