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South African policies go some way to tackling poverty and inequality

But more is needed.
Image: Shutterstock

South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world. More than 50% of the population live in poverty. Despite notable gains in poverty reduction post-apartheid, poverty levels have remained consistently highest among women, black South Africans, people with disabilities, and those living in rural areas.

The government has committed itself to addressing poverty, inequality and social exclusion – understood as disadvantage by gender, race, disability or place. The mandate is laid out in the constitution and in the government’s National Development Plan. The plan was adopted in September 2012 as a blueprint for eliminating poverty and significantly reducing inequality by 2030.

But do the country’s laws, policies and strategy documents show exactly how poverty, inequality and social exclusion will be tackled?

To answer this question, researchers at the Centre for Social Development in Africa undertook an extensive review commissioned by the National Development Agency. We explored how policy makers and legislators have faced these systemic challenges in drafting their documents.

We reviewed 501 legislative, policy and strategy documents under the Medium Term Strategic Framework Outcomes, the implementation strategy of the National Development Plan (2014-2019). The documents cover education, health, safety and security, economic growth and employment, skills, infrastructure, rural development, human settlements, local government, environment, public service, social protection, nation building and social cohesion.

We reviewed each document to determine the number of references to poverty, inequality, social exclusion, gender, race, disability, youth unemployment and spatial inequality. Then we analysed whether the references were generic or specific.

We considered whether the documents showed an understanding of the issues and looked for solutions.

Our findings reveal that there is at least some engagement with poverty, inequality and social exclusion in all governmental sectors. But it’s inconsistent. We identified steps that could improve progress.

Our findings

We found that 10% of legislative documents and more than half of all policy and strategy documents mentioned poverty, inequality, social exclusion, gender, race, disability and spatial disparities at least once.

The social protection sector showed the highest average number of references to poverty (58), inequality (70) and social exclusion (116) in its documents. The public service sector showed the lowest number of references.

We also discovered that there are many more references in policy and strategy documents than in legislative documents.

More references don’t mean deeper engagement with these issues. In some cases the issues are not critically analysed. References to poverty, inequality and social exclusion must explain how they affect each law and policy. They should also offer strategic interventions.

Some sectors do take this holistic approach to policy-making. In the health sector, for example, we found that some policy and strategy documents examine the connection between poverty, inequality and health outcomes. The Breast Cancer Control Policy, for instance, identifies transport as a constraint to accessing health services.

We also found that references to gender and spatial disparities are most common when addressing social exclusion. But references to population groups, disability and youth who are not in education or training are inconsistent across the board.

The gap between policy and practice

Policies matter and can make a real difference. But on their own they are insufficient. They must be implemented. Change happens through stakeholders and processes.

More needs to be done to include poverty, inequality and social exclusion in all policy making. Here are some remedies that arose from our research:

  • Recognition of poverty, inequality and social exclusion cannot be limited to policy and strategy documents. It must be reflected in legislative documents because laws are binding.
  • Policy-making institutions must take ownership of the national mandate. Each government department must develop solutions. They cannot simply rely on the National Development Plan to reduce poverty and inequality.
  • Government departments could develop a toolkit based on shared good practice. This would help to translate documents into action. Documents must be grounded in data, analysis and strategic responses. Drafters must consider trade-offs and holistic approaches. They must also make strategic use of flagship programmes and participatory processes.
  • Finally, we recommend that future Medium Term Strategic Framework documents be based on goal-setting guidelines for poverty, inequality and social exclusion. This will achieve greater consistency in targets and indicators.

Laws and policies are only one part of making a real difference in people’s lives. But they are an important link in the chain of transformation. South Africa’s policy sectors and government departments can learn from one another to address poverty and inequality more consistently and effectively.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

Sophie Plagerson, senior research fellow at the Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg.


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With all due respect to Sophie Plagerson….what a naive and pointless article. The National Development Plan has been in place for ages and SA has great legislation. However we are all tired of the ANC and their links to global criminals and therefore their lack of interest in delivering on anything for the people of SA. Please rather write about getting a new government in place that isn’t interested only in money laundering that may deliver on great policy!

With unemployment and poverty levels rising significantly since 94, especially in the last 15 years, the policies are not working at all.

That includes the policies against corruption, allowing illegal immigrants to enter and STAY in SA.

The ANC cannot reduce poverty going forward.

In W Cape the DA has done infinatly better.

So what is poverty? Are the rural family with a few cows, sustaining themselves, with no debt poorer than the majority urban family with a bonded house, a vehicle with a loan, technically insolvent as their liabilities exceed their assets? We need to redefine the concept of poverty.

South Africa may be one of the most unequal societies in the world but it is also one of the most distributive societies in the world. How else do you explain a small tax base of 6,5 million people carrying a country of 59m people where Income tax is the biggest source of revenue by a long shot with VAT and corporate tax coming in second and third?

It’s not distributive. Who do you count in that. If we didn’t have 10m illegals in the country and we had a sovereign wealth fund that distributed at least R5k to every legal adult citizen, which is doable if the ANC cadres did not steal the money, then we could call it distributive.

I think one cannot divorce the concepts of redistribution and inequality. In fact, the South African model of African socialism simply exacerbates inequality. Mankind, by nature, is a producer of wealth. Let us call it an innate instinct. The chief motivator in primordial societies was survival. People survived by producing wealth whether it was growing crops, gathering, hunting, protecting/ defending, fishing, building structures, making weapons etc. In the absence of survival threats and a steady stream of wealth to be consumed, procured at gunpoint from other producers, mankind becomes lazy, slovenly and entitled. The producers become parasites. The impediments to producing wealth are great. Labour legislation, militant unionism, minimum wages, reporting requirements, harsh OSH laws, BEE, the crushing burden of taxation, crime and a regime hostile to your purpose.

Conversely, in the absence of any incentives, it is far easier to jump on the wagon than pull it. This leads to ongoing erosion of the middle class leaving the politburo and last remaining captains of industry facing off the indolent masses. Such countries tend to have the highest Gini coefficients.

The route to salvation is not wealth redistribution but wealth creation. The Chinese way, The US way of old, The German way, The Korean way. The Singaporean way: Low taxation, manufacturing, cheap capital, few impediments to business, law enforcement and encouragement of capital formation. Certainly not the irrelevant musings of inconsequent academia.

Its actually 3.5m Tax payers paying 90% of all personal income tax.

And even many of those income tax payers are not particularly high earners.

Let’s define equality.

Are we talking equality of outcome or equality of opportunity?

Equality of outcome is the goal , but will never ever be achieved. People are different , not equal . This is not a black vs white comment. Within white communities there are rich poor, strong , weak , very clever and very stupid people.

We want equality of opportunity, everyone should have a “fair shot a success”.

Now perhaps we should also define what is success. That’s also different. Every company only has one CEO, if everyone thinks that being the CEO is what success is , then we need 60mil companies to achieve equality.

We must uplift and develop , the government is doing a great job at messing that up with self enrichment and corruption. Equality of opportunity will never be achieved when that is the case.

When we incentivise people to get children by paying them grants and at the same time the economy is growing slower than the population, then again we will never achieve equality.

The only “equality” that SA can achieve under these circumstances is a country where we are all equality poor. But that’s one aspect of equality (financial means)

But even then we are not equal , there are some good looking people . Some athletic people , some tall , some short , some healthy some and so on.

Equality is complex , people use it as a buzz word , but have a clue how many levels exist. True equality is nothing more than a fairytale, unicorn.

South Africa has been one of the most socialist countries in the world for the past 26 years. What do we have to show for these infringements on property rights? The highest unemployment rate and the highest inequality on earth.

The Tripartite Alliance incentivises militant labour unions to exploit their power over the legislative process to legalise plunder. They infringe on the property rights of business owners and they destroy the job opportunities of the unemployed. They use labour laws to enable their increasing unproductivity. The combination of rising wages and lower value of production removes the entrepreneur, the one who creates the jobs, from the equation. We have many people looking for jobs, but no entrepreneurs to create those jobs. The members of labour unions are the new privileged elite. They enjoy their privileges to the detriment of the unemployed masses.

Employment offers the only solution to the inequality issue. All these socialist/communist redistributive policies like BEE, the Mining Charter, cadre-deployment, labour laws, and job quotas have been unsuccessful. Instead of creating jobs, it destroys jobs. In a free-market environment, the resources of the nation will be extracted by entrepreneurs, spread among the citizens through the value-adding process that creates employment and taxes that fund the social grant. Under the socialist policies of the ANC however, these resources remain hidden and unexplored, no value is created for citizens, no jobs for the unemployed and no taxes for social grants.

Poverty, unemployment and inequality are written into the legislation. It is the result of the myopic ANC policies, and the courts enforce it. Under these circumstances, inequality and poverty can only increase. The policies guarantee this outcome.

“Special Investment Drives” or “special investment envoys” and “investment indabas” cannot compensate for bad economic policy. Investors react to incentives, and not to invitations.

Business is the only thing that gives SA a standing chance. We would not have any international investment interests if it was not for Corporate South Africa. Thank you for carrying South Africa on your backs.

Birth control would sort out this problem

That is not part of the plan as this would eradicate the majority voter base. Clearly this is part of the strategy.

The same goes for education. Just keep the voter base illiterate or under educated………and you are guaranteed to stay in power.

The actual thing is that Government’s policies are designed to impoverish everybody in SA. That is how they want to create economic equality.

Sophie. the scale of poverty and inequality has been greatly exacerbated by the socialist policies you refer to you. The only way to truly alleviate poverty is through economic growth. Since 2010, GDP growth has been stuck at less than 2%. I once read somewhere that we need a 3% growth rate to just to keep the unemployment rate stable. We are nowhere near achieving this. Although many of these socialist policies may be well meaning, most have had the effect of hampering badly needed growth. For growth, even in the face of extreme disparities, government must be prepared to leave capital in the hands of the allocators and entrepreneurs.

How about : Don’t breed them if you can’t feed them.
Actually quite simple.

Do I feel guilty? Not at all in the least.
Do I feel stupid? Yes, for not leaving this Godforsaken cANCer heaven of theft and corruption complete with idiotic voters longtime ago.

Insights of a Socialist.

How can one talk about equality when there is such an inequality of mindset?

Two key issues: The rich (middle class taxpayers) vote for good government – the poor vote for large scale corruption and mismanagement.

The rich do not have more children than they can afford – millions of the poor have children the cannot afford.

58% of the SA tax income goes to 2.5% of the people of this country.

That 2.5% are the ANC government workers. There is the root cause of the inequality.

What do successful countries do: They ensure;

– Small families

– quality education, and

– strong economic growth.

Aag pleeze — SA policies go to entrench inequality and poverty — Now go and re write this piece of garbage !!!

I know the pic is a random internet pic it does not do justice to the article! I am sure there are a lot of poverty representation pics that we could have used.
Who is really poor in SA, a person who does not pay for services but still uses and demands them or the middle class with almost everything owned by banks( car loans, homeloans) and municipality with regards to rates and taxes?
Middle class taxes is what is keeping SA alive with little in return. Municipalities can’t even repair local roads!

SA should also stop being father xmas and allow everyone through the borders, legally or illegally to use our scarce free services free of charge.

Informal settlements and issues of illegal electricity connections will never be solve if SA gov is ruled by fear that is going to be called xenophobic. Charity begins at home and SA is a country in trouble.

End of comments.





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