Vast Majority of SA's Poor Are Trapped in Rural Areas, with No Way Out

Article excerpt

BYLINE: Paula Armstrong,

Bongisa Lekezwa

and Krige Siebrits

As political parties have begun electioneering, poverty alleviation has clearly emerged as one of the most important problems for parties to tackle.

The country has seen waves of social unrest from its poorest and most marginalised citizens over the past 18 months and some of these demonstrations have resulted in violence.

In the present climate, it's perhaps a good time to present a broad analysis of South Africa's poverty situation. A recent study by the University of Stellenbosch Department of Economics analysed the data of two surveys conducted by Statistics South Africa - the Income and Expenditure Survey of Households (IES) 2005/06 and the General Household Survey 2006.

The report shows that there are several distinct aspects to poverty in South Africa.

The analysis indicates that 47.1% of the population consumed less than the "lower-bound" poverty line proposed by Statistics South Africa in 2007 - which means 47.1% of the population did not have R322 (in 2000 prices) a month for essential food and non-food items.

The poverty rates of South Africa's nine provinces differ significantly, as do those of the urban and rural areas. In 2005/06 the poverty rates ranged from 24.9% in Gauteng and 28.8% in the Western Cape to 57.6% in the Eastern Cape and 64.6% in Limpopo.

The three provinces with the highest poverty rates (KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo) are also relatively populous - at the time of IES2005 they housed 47.4% of the population.

It should come as no surprise, then, that fully 60.1% of poor individuals lived in these three provinces.

The incidence of poverty, however, was much higher in the rural areas - 59.3% of poor individuals were rural dwellers, despite the fact that the rural areas housed well below one-half of the population.

It is well known that South Africa's apartheid past imparted a strong and stubborn racial character to distributions of income and wealth. In 2005/06 - more than a decade after democratisation - the incidence of poverty among black and coloured people remained dramatically higher than that among whites.

There was also a major difference in the poverty rate according to gender. Some 45% of all households headed by women lived below the "lower-bound" poverty line, compared to only 25% of male-headed households.

The incidence of poverty generally increased with the age of the head of the household. The only exception is the group of households headed by 15-to-24 year olds - an indication of the extent of youth unemployment. The relatively high poverty rates among households headed by individuals aged 65 and older reflected the clustering of the destitute around the recipients of state old-age grants.

Living conditions and access to services are areas in which considerable disparities also exist - the lack of access to services experienced by the poor often contributes to the difficulty entailed in moving out of a state of poverty. …