1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Identities, Conflict and Cohesion (2000 - 2009)

Poverty Eradication, Redistribution and Race Relations in South Africa (Draft)



The fundamental challenge facing South Africa is the eradication of poverty and inequality in a context where the markers of both conditions are both race and class. A core feature of the agenda of the first democratic government of South Africa has been to formulate and entrench policies aimed at the redistribution of power and resources. This feature is reflected not only in the constitution of the country and the Bill of Rights, but also in the social and economic policies of the country.

This paper focuses on how South Africa's redistributive policies and anti-poverty programmes aim to address the racial inequalities created and perpetuated by apartheid, and the potential impact of this on race relations. The policies introduced by the democratic government have been variously viewed as having a zero-sum game effect, being a form of reverse discrimination or as prerequisites for the reconciliation and the long term social and political stability of the country.

That South Africa is a country characterised by a great economic divide along racial lines is not a matter of dispute. This remains the case even as income differences between black and white South Africans narrow, and as a growing black middle class is being created. The Human Development Index ranks South Africa as a medium human development country. However, there are significant differences in the Human Development Index of various South African provinces. Provinces such as the Northern Province and the Eastern Cape have a low Human Development Index. These also happen to be the more rural provinces where the former homelands were located - areas where many Africans were relegated to under apartheid. There is, therefore, a strong correlation between rural location and high levels of poverty. Similarly there is a strong correlation between race and rural location - with a higher incidence of rural location among Africans.