households in South AfricaSouth Africa has prioritized passing laws to encourage greater inclusion and equality for people with disabilities, but today, disabled individuals continue to face economic insecurity and lack access to socio-economic rights. Every day, households in South Africa impacted by disability have economic vulnerabilities and disability-related costs to fulfill, which can negatively impact economic growth by lowering future productivity. In South Africa, low-income households with disabilities are more disadvantaged, resulting in lower education, employment and health outcomes.

Disability Barriers

In South Africa, families with disabilities are economically challenged due to the additional costs of living as disabled individuals. The negative economic consequences for society as a whole link to poverty because poverty and disability reinforce each other. Impoverished households in South Africa with a lack of access to education, healthcare and jobs are at higher “risk of impairment and disability.”

Daily barriers the disabled community faces include limited access to education and healthcare, accessibility issues and inadequate support and resources. Children with disabilities are often unable to attend school because they lack the appropriate resources and access to rehabilitation and assistive devices like wheelchairs or glasses. A central component and cause of poverty for people with disabilities is inadequate education.

Employment and Income Impacts

In South Africa, a lack of education for people with disabilities has a significant impact on the occupations and career opportunities available to them, resulting in unemployment or lower-paying jobs. Many disabled people who do find work are usually paid less than other people due to the limitations imposed by their impairment. Both of these variables have the potential to reduce household income.

Furthermore, increased time demands of providing care and assistance to an individual with a disability in the household impact the income of other household members. This is especially so for the primary caregiver. This may have pressing consequences, including difficulties finding work that can accommodate the high assistance demands in the household and allow for flexible or decreased work hours. Occupations with flexible working conditions are difficult to come by. Additionally, the birth of a disabled child or a disabling incident in the home may disrupt the education of other family members.

Progressive Laws Passed

The South African government has acknowledged the disability vulnerabilities of households in South Africa. South Africa has enacted a number of laws and policies to promote the inclusion and equality of people with disabilities. One of the earliest pieces of legislation is the Employment Equity Act of 1998. The White Paper on Inclusive Education was passed in 2001 to ensure disabled people have the same educational opportunities as others. The legislation upholds the rights of disabled people to ensure their education and employment, allowing them to rise out of poverty. Excluding marginalized populations is detrimental to a country’s advancement. Inclusive societies are able to progress at a faster rate because no person is left behind in growth and development.

Mary McLean
Photo: Flickr

Racial Inequality in South Africa
The World Bank recently released a 147-page report extensively detailing the root causes of economic struggle in South Africa. Researchers found that one of the most prominent factors behind poverty is racial inequality in South Africa.

Apartheid, the government-enforced segregation and discrimination against non-white people, came to an end in 1994 with the introduction of a racially mixed, democratically elected parliament under the leadership of Nelson Mandela. But although discriminatory policies stopped being imposed by the government, that unfortunately does not mean that racism vanished from the country. In fact, South Africa remains the most racially unequal country in the entire world.

The residual effects of apartheid have had tremendous impacts on the poverty rate, and the remnants of racial inequality in South Africa are still playing a role in the nation’s economic structure to this day.

Employment Disparities Remain After the End of Apartheid

Because apartheid took place relatively recently, many non-white people in South Africa who lived through it are still recovering from being discriminated against during that time. The report states that non-whites statistically have fewer skills, simply because they were excluded from the workforce for so long. This means that they are still more likely to be unemployed than white people. In fact, black South Africans saw a 31.4 percent unemployment rate in 2017, while among white South Africans the rate was only 6.6 percent.

Employment is hard to come by for non-whites because of how the education system was set up during apartheid. White education focused on reading, language and math, while non-white education mainly trained people to become unskilled laborers so that white people would not have to compete with non-white people for high-paying jobs.

This plan worked exactly as it was intended to, and many non-white people are doomed to a life of working low-paying jobs simply because they were never taught the skills to advance in their careers. As of last year, white South Africans still bring in an average income that is five times greater than that of black South Africans.

Race-Based Displacement Caused Lasting Inequality

Another measure taken to promote racial inequality in South Africa during apartheid was the passage of the Group Areas Act of 1950. This resulted in millions of people being forced out of their homes and sent to live in specific areas based on their race. White people were able to live in the most developed areas, while non-whites were usually placed in barren rural townships. Even if non-whites happened to live in decent areas, their neighborhoods could be demolished to make room for white residences if the land appealed to them.

Because of this mass displacement, many non-whites still live far away from developed regions (even though it is no longer mandated by law) because it is too difficult to find somewhere else to live. For instance, the Western Cape province–home to Cape Town, one of South Africa’s biggest tourist destinations–is the most developed province in South Africa. The Western Cape has the lowest black population out of all the provinces at 32 percent. However, the Eastern Cape, South Africa’s most underdeveloped province, has the highest black population at 86 percent.

The distance from their townships into more populous cities makes it harder for non-whites to find employment in commercial areas, and even if they are able to secure a job, the cost of transportation to get there is very high. In fact, the average South African commuter spends about 40 percent of his or her income on transportation.

Government Efforts to Address Racial Inequality in South Africa

The South African government has taken measures to combat poverty related to racial inequality. The first of these was the establishment of minibus taxis, a cheaper form of public transportation from rural areas into cities. This has helped alleviate some of the cost and inconvenience that comes with living outside of populous areas.

Another important step taken by the government to overcome racism was the passage of the Employment Equity Act. This act made it illegal for employers to discriminate against their workers based on race and requires employers to promote diversity in the workplace through affirmative action programs.

Though these are great initiatives for helping those who were unfairly affected by apartheid and the racism that still lingers today, much more can be and needs to be done to reduce poverty by battling racial inequality in South Africa.

– Maddi Roy
Photo: Flickr