1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Project: Racism and Public Policy

Abstract of Paper by Renosi Mokate

  • Project from: 2000 to 2001

Redistributive Policies, Anti-Poverty Programmes and Race Relations in South Africa

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 will focus 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.

By design, apartheid was aimed at relegating black people, particularly Africans, to the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. The effect of that agenda continues to be felt as sixty-five percent of Africans still live below poverty, and the majority of African children live in poor households. The average annual income among African- headed households was R23 000, compared to R32 000 among coloured-headed households, R71 000 among Indian-headed households and R103 000 among white headed households. The markers of poverty in South Africa are age, gender, race, location, education and employment. As indicated above, the majority of African children in South Africa live in poor households. These households are in the main themselves characterised by one of the following:

· female headed households,
· households in which the head of the household is unemployed
· the head of household has a very low level of education
· they are located in a rural or peri-urban area

From the above, it is clear that poverty is a serious challenge for South Africa, particularly as it creates various constraints toward the achievement of a better quality of life. An equally significant challenge that South Africa faces is that of inequality. South Africa's gini coefficient indicates clearly that is it a highly unequal society. So too does the distribution of poverty by geography, race and gender, as well as the geographical and racial distribution of services.

At its inception one of the first acts of the newly elected government of South Africa, was to pass the White Paper on the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). The RDP put in place a broad framework from which the various spheres of government, and government departments would evolve policies specific to their areas. The RDP white paper sought to balance the need for redress with sound economic policy. It also sought to convey the need for a participatory, people centred form of governance.

The Reconstruction and Development Program rests on five pillars:
1. Meeting the basic needs of the people;
2. Accelerating the basis for sustained economic growth, development and job creation;
3. Development of human resources;
4. Ensuring the safety and security of the citizen and the state; and
5. Transforming the organs of government to reflect the developmental and people centred nature of a democratic state.

Following on from the passing of the RDP various policies and acts have been passed. In the social sector, policies have been established by the Departments of Education, Health and Welfare aimed at redress within these sectors. Within the economic sector, the Department of Labour speared headed the passing of the Labour Relations Act, the Skills Development Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. Collectively, these acts safeguard the rights of all workers, and ensure that a key precondition for development, investment in human resource capacity, is addressed from an economic point of view.

Within the social sector, the main aim of policy has been to re-direct expenditure toward areas that were previously neglected, and address the problems of poverty and inequality. Hence, in the health sector, there has been greater priority placed on primary health care and increasing the number of primary health care facilities in rural areas and previously black residential areas. Within the education sector, great attention has been placed upon basic education as well as redress in the higher education sector.

From the inception of South Africa's democracy there has been concern regarding how far to the left the economic pendulum would swing. This matter hinges around the balance between the imperatives dictated by social policies aimed at addressing poverty and inequality and meeting the objectives of macroeconomic stability. There is no question that in South Africa the process of formulating relevant social policies has been tempered by the objective to maintain macro-economic stability. Internationally, South Africa has been praised for following sound macro-economic policies. Within South Africa, this has in some cases been seen by labour unions and of poor communities as merely pandering to the multilateral organisations (e.g., the World Bank and International Monetary Fund) at the expense of the country's previously oppressed. This is particularly the case given that South Africa, for all its efforts at maintaining a sound macroeconomic environment, has not received as much foreign direct investment or domestic investment as was expected.

Within some segments of the white and business communities, South Africa's macro-economic policies are percieved as sound, but there is a feeling that they are being undermined by rigid labour policies. The Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act in particular aim to address past unfair labour practices and discrimination against black and women workers. The Employment Equity Act seeks to ensure that South Africa's labour force is representative of the country's demographics, unlike as is currently the case were blacks predominantly occupy low and unskilled positions within the labour market. Given apartheid's labour practices, the divide between potential beneficiaries and losers, in the implementation of these policies, tends to take on a racial tone. This is because capital in South Africa is still largely owned by whites, and there still exists a dual labour market.

There is no question that South Africa cannot expect to attain long term social and economic stability without addressing the structural problems created by apartheid. Yet there will be trade-offs, particularly in a context where the economy is not growing and where issues such as affordability of services remain a significant constraint toward achieving universal access to basic services. Furthermore, it is not easy for any class or group of people that has been in a position of power and privilege to relinquish its position.