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inequality and poverty in South AfricaSouth Africa is a popular tourist destination for adventure seekers and safari lovers of the world. Its expansive national parks and gorgeous coastal settlements like Cape Town offer travelers countless activities and scenic views. But despite its stunning exterior, extreme, seemingly inescapable inequality and poverty ransack the country, with 18.9% of the population living below the international poverty line.

In 2020, the United Nations (U.N.) and the World Bank ranked South Africa as the most financially unequal country in the world. The following is a look into poverty in South Africa.

Apartheid

Apartheid is the leading factor behind the inequality and poverty in South Africa. This era saw the forced physical and social separation of all racial groups. Black South Africans could not live with or marry white people. They could also not attend the same schools, live in the same neighborhoods or even walk on the same side of the street.

White South Africans experienced better schools, safer homes and superior health care compared to other South Africans. Although Apartheid is no longer an official policy, the effects have left Black South Africans severely disadvantaged socially and economically. At the end of the era of segregation, white South Africans had more than 90% of land ownership in the entire country, leaving the rest of South Africans with little wealth and a direct route to extreme, cyclical poverty.

Even though no laws directly prevent the social or economic advancement of the poor, this type of poverty is difficult to overcome.

Regional Poverty

Extreme poverty in South Africa is mainly concentrated in the eastern and northern regions of the country. Eastern Cape is the poorest municipality in South Africa with a poverty rate of 12.7% and 878,000 impoverished people. However, many other municipalities in these regions experience poverty at rates as high as 11.5% and no lower than around 5%. These same areas have poverty numbers above 600,000 people.

Female-Led Households

Households that females lead experience higher and more severe rates of poverty. In fact, female-led households experience poverty at a rate almost 17% higher than male-headed households. Female-headed households tend to be farther below the poverty line than their male-headed counterparts, meaning that these households have less access to education, clean water and sanitation.

High Rates of Unemployment

As of June 2023, unemployment in South Africa stood at 32.9%, one of the highest rates in the world. Nearly 5% of unemployed people qualify as time-related unemployed, meaning that they are available to and desire to work more hours than they currently do. In other words, many employed South Africans still feel, to a certain degree, unemployed. While one in three South Africans is unemployed and living off of federal grants, some employed individuals still require a higher income to truly survive.

This feeling of hopelessness and desire for more leads to a sense of poverty whether or not one technically qualifies as “impoverished.”

Below Average Health and Safety

South Africa is below average in terms of health and safety. More than one-quarter of people are unsatisfied with the quality of water. South Africa has massive amounts of air pollution and a life expectancy of 64 years old.

Unsafe communities exacerbate these factors. The country has a homicide rate of nearly 14% and more than 50% of people do not feel comfortable walking alone at night.

Overall, living conditions in South Africa range greatly from high-quality housing in wealthy neighborhoods to unsafe and impoverished communities that provide residents with little chance to escape cyclical poverty.

Future Outlook

Although some of these statistics seem daunting, there is good news. The South African government is proving its dedication to reducing poverty through huge amounts of spending on social grants. About 60% of federal spending goes toward social welfare programs that reach 16.6 million people every year. This welfare program includes old age grants for persons 60 years or older, who have a disability, veterans and different forms of child support, including foster child grants and care-dependency grants.

The social welfare program took off in the 1990s during the country’s early years of democracy as a temporary way to ease the inequality and pain caused by Apartheid. However, the program has become permanent and crucial to South African life. An estimated one-quarter of South Africans receive federal aid through this program, making it essential to maintaining a functioning economy and fighting poverty within South Africa.

Poverty in South Africa is more than a lack of sanitation, potable water and healthy food. Apartheid has created a rift in South Africa’s society. The nation is now characterized by unemployment, gender inequality and racism. However, continued government action, foreign aid and time may be enough to significantly reduce inequality and poverty in South Africa.

– Suzanne Ackley
Photo: Flickr

South Africa's Unemployment
South Africa’s unemployment rate is witnessing some of its worst times since 2008. Formal jobs are seeing a major downturn and many families within the country are suffering from larger amounts of poverty as a result. Despite these trying times, there are those who are trying to create opportunities in the face of hardship and help those trying to stand on their own feet through jobs and special education. One example is the fashion designer company OneOfEach and how it is not only creating jobs but showing a blueprint on how to fight South Africa’s unemployment by providing opportunity.

Economic Ups and Downs

South Africa’s economy is actually doing quite well in comparison to many of its neighbors. It has the second largest GDP in all of Africa, as well as having a large working force that has helped the country create the second-largest economy on the continent. Despite these breakthroughs, South Africa is currently undergoing one of its worst unemployment rates since 2008. This has lead to many people questioning how one of the largest economies in Africa can have such a large unemployment rate. The answer is simply lack of jobs and wage inequality.

South Africa has extremely wealthy business owners that own large conglomerates and industries including many labor workers. The problem with this is that the number of people working in labor was and still is far outpacing the number of people creating small businesses and new jobs as a result. South Africa is suffering from a crippling problem that causes a small business to not receive the support it needs to be an accessible venture for those not willing to work in the labor force. Limited job creation stifles job growth as a result.

Strength of Small Business

This is where the company OneOfEach comes in. This is a company that fully displays the culture of South Africa through the designs of clothing and handbags. What started in 2013 as a small business between Pauline Chirume and her daughter, Tamburai Chirume, has evolved into a chain that has 17 stores across the globe. This company stands out not only because of how successful it has been as a small business, but how much it contributes back to the populace. This company has taken it upon itself to make sure others profit from their success to help fight South Africa’s unemployment by providing opportunity.

The Borgen Project interviewed the founder’s daughter to gain more insight into the organization’s operations. Pauline handles the creative side of the business while Tamburai handles the business end of things. Tamburai seeks to heavily involve female youth within the company as she wants to grant them an opportunity which is rare in South Africa. Tamburai mentioned that there are fewer opportunities for women to work in South Africa, which makes it especially difficult for single mothers. Tamburai seeks to employ women and single mothers so that they receive a stable income and job security. These women are also able to gain knowledge that can help them in the future and furthers the cause of fighting unemployment.

OneOfEach has several workshops where it teaches young girls how to manufacture items. These girls are all under the age of 35 and most of them come from poverty-stricken areas, including women’s shelters. The girls that receive training learn how to create items and the basics of the creative process. This is a great boon since most of the girls have never had any experience in retail or fashion design and thus earn a great amount of work experience. Despite all of this, what Tamburai considers one of the greatest accomplishments in her business is the fact that she can give health care to her employees, which is difficult for a small business in South Africa to grant. Tamburai feels that granting health care to her employees is a big step towards them gaining a decent lifestyle. She essentially wants to help these young ladies stand on their own two feet so that eventually they may gain enough education and experience to start small businesses of their own.

Helping the Jobless

Tamburai also notes how she feels that more opportunities like her business need to come into fruition to make a difference in South Africa. She notes that there are 6.7 million unemployed people in the country and she wants to do her part to make sure they have a chance. Tamburai also goes as far as to direct those under her wing to the American Corner, which is an opportunity hub where many can learn about different entrepreneurial possibilities in the country. The co-owner of OneOfEach feels that teaching people how to reach out and create jobs for themselves is one of the more effective ways to help deal with the unemployment rate in South Africa. She fears, however, that unless the government lends more funds and support towards small jobs, the impact will be monetary at best and stagnant at worst.

Tamburai is not incorrect about her observations regarding unemployment, nor should one fault her for trying to help women through her business. While 35 percent of men are out of a job, 43 percent of women are out of a job and having children or being single mothers may exacerbate this. With an unemployment rate of 29 percent which is currently climbing little by little, the country of South Africa has nearly 7 million people that are out of a job. The problem is not getting any better as the employment rate has only increased by 1.4 percent since the first quarter of 2019. If the job market does not include a flood of new jobs then the unemployment rate is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. If some of these young women can make the most out of the tools, skills and experience that Tamburai and her mother have provided, however, they may be able to make a difference in the fight against South Africa’s unemployment.

Collin Williams
Photo: Flickr