About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Living standards and poverty

The UNDP estimates the number of South Africans living on under $1 a day at 11 percent and at under $2 a day at 34 percent. The Development Bank of South Africa (2005) estimates that the number of South Africans living in poverty -- using the 2002 national bench mark of R354 ($60) per adult -- increased from 17 million in 1996 to 21 million in 2003.

According to the Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive System of Social Security for South Africa, 55 percent of South Africans were living in poverty in 2002 and 60 percent of the poor received no social security transfer. The UNDP report on SA for 2003 found that the number of households considered deprived of 'good' access to basic services increased from 5.68 million to 7.24 million between 1996 and 2001. See Dale McKinley, 'Deracialised elite ignores growing gap between itself and the poor,' Sunday Independent 2 October 2005

In its 2005 development report, Underdevelopment in Southern Africa, the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBA), concludes that, 'apart from the apparent absence of a coherent, scale appropriate strategy for the second economy, a fundamental shortcoming of current efforts is a tendency to design assistance in a way that does not suit the ordinary poor person…. Arguably the most important constraint to transforming the second economy is that the vast majority of those who inhabit this economy are manifestly unprepared to make the transition to the first economy or to link to it somehow.''

The survey for the 2005 Institute for Justice and Reconciliation SA Reconciliation Barometer asked South Africans what they thought to be the moist divisive feature of SA today. "Income inequality' topped the list with 30 per cent seeing it as the most divisive.

Poverty estimates generally are calculated using a poverty line that varies according to household size. A household of four persons has a poverty income of R1,290 per month. According to a Fact Sheet on Poverty in South Africa, published by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in July 2004, the proportion of people living in poverty in South Africa has not changed significantly between 1996 and 2001. However, those households living in poverty have sunk deeper into poverty and the gap between rich and poor has widened. HSRC, in collaboration with Andrew Whiteford, a South African economist, estimated that approximately 57% of individuals in South Africa were living below the poverty income line in 2001, unchanged from 1996. Limpopo and the Eastern Cape had the highest proportion of poor with 77 percent and 72 percent of their populations living below the poverty income line, respectively. The Western Cape had the lowest proportion in poverty (32 percent), followed by Gauteng (42 percent).

The HSRC also estimated poverty rates for each municipality. The majority of municipalities with the lowest poverty rates are found in the Western Cape. These include Stellenbosch (23 percent) and Saldanha Bay (25 percent). The major city with the lowest poverty rate is Cape Town (30 percent). Pretoria and Johannesburg have somewhat higher rates of 35 percent and 38 percent, respectively, while Durban has a rate of 44 percent. The poorest municipality is Ntabankulu in the Eastern Cape, where 85 percent of its residents live below the poverty line. Seven of the 10 poorest municipalities are located in the Eastern Cape while two are located in Limpopo and one in the Free State. (A copy of the Fact Sheet on Poverty in South Africa can be downloaded by visiting www.sarpn.org.za/documents/d0000990/index.php)

Because there are conflicting views concerning how best to define and measure poverty, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) will undertake a survey to measure poverty, as defined by key stakeholders, next year. Questionnaire design and survey methodologies and processes are being tested in 2007. In the second half of 2007, Stats SA will release a national poverty line on a trial basis, for public discussion, with the survey being conducted during 2008-09. (To submit comments on the proposal when it is released, go to www.treasury.gov.za.)

South Africa lacks a national index of multiple deprivation, thus making it difficult to assess comparable levels of deprivation across the provinces. Nevertheless, there are prevailing interpretations for both "deprivation" and "poverty", beyond financial numbers.

The abolition of apartheid brought with it a commitment to improving the quality of life of all South Africans and reducing poverty and social inequality. The South African constitution requires that Parliament ensure that financial resources are distributed equitably among provincial and sub-provincial governments, based partly on levels of poverty and disadvantage. In order identify areas of greatest need, one must define poverty and deprivation; generally, "deprivation" means having needs that are unmet, and "poverty" means lacking the resources to meet those needs. As stated in the ANC's Reconstruction and Development Programme,

It is not merely the lack of income which determines poverty. An enormous proportion of very basic needs are presently unmet. In attacking poverty and deprivation, the RDP aims to set South Africa firmly on the road to eliminating hunger, providing land and housing to all our people, providing access to safe water and sanitation for all, ensuring the availability of affordable and sustainable energy sources, eliminating illiteracy, raising the quality of education and training for children and adults, protecting the environment, and improving our health services and making them accessible to all (African National Congress, Reconstruction and Development Programme: A policy framework, Johannesburg: Umanyano Publications, 1994).

In 2000, poverty was defined by Stats SA as something to be viewed,

… in a broader perspective than merely the extent of low income or low expenditure in the country. It is seen here as the denial of opportunities and choices most basic to human development to lead a long, healthy, creative life and to enjoy a decent standard of living, freedom, dignity, self-esteem and respect from others (Statistics South Africa, Measuring poverty in South Africa, Pretoria: Statistics South Africa, 2000).

According to a team of academic researchers from the Centre for the Analysis of South African Social Policy (CASAP), the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) of South Africa, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), and Oxford University, the majority of the literature on levels of poverty and inequality in post-apartheid South Africa is based on either national or sub-national population surveys. Key national datasets used, either alone or in combination, include the Income and Expenditure Surveys (1995 IES and 2000 IES), the October Household Surveys (OHS), the Labour Force Surveys (LFS), and the 1996 and 2001 Censuses. A number of sub-national surveys have also been undertaken for particular provinces or sub-provincial regions e.g. the KwaZulu-Natal Income Dynamics Study (KIDS) and the Cape Area Panel Study (Noble, M., Babita, M., Barnes, H., Dibben, C., Magasela, W., Noble, S., Ntshongwana, P., Phillips, H., Rama, S., Roberts, B., Wright, G. and Zungu, S., The Provincial Indices of Multiple Deprivation for South Africa 2001, University of Oxford: UK, March 2006).

To measure the most deprived areas within each province, the aforementioned social policy research team developed an approach to measuring poverty at the ward level in South Africa which takes into account issues relating to income and material deprivation, employment deprivation, health deprivation, education deprivation, and the quality of the environment in which people live. They developed a series of indices tied to these areas that were drawn from 2001 Census data; these indices also serve as a starting point for comparison, once a national deprivation index is developed.

They five domains, indices, and data interpretations include:

Ø     Income and Material Deprivation, including the percentage of the population living in a household with a household equivalent income below 40% of mean income and/or no refrigerator and/or no TV and radio.

According to the 2001 Census, nearly three-quarters (73%) of households in the country had a radio, while slightly more than half had a television or refrigerator (54% and 51% respectively)

Ø     Employment Deprivation, including the number of people unemployed and the number of people who are unemployed due to illness or disability.

In September 2006 Statistics SA released its annual Labour Force Survey, which showed that South Africa's unemployment rate fell to 25.6 percent from 26.5 percent in 2005. (If you count discouraged work seekers who have given up looking for jobs, the unemployment rate fell below 39 percent, from a peak of well over 40 percent a few years ago.  (A copy of the Labour Force Survey can be obtained by visiting www.statssa.gov.za.)

Ø     Health Deprivation, which measures premature death, by age and gender. This is expressed as a rate: the number of years of life lost per 1,000 population.

Ø     Education Deprivation, which involves the number of 18 to 65 year-olds (inclusive) who have no schooling at the secondary level and above.

According to Census data, there are still wide disparities in literacy and educational attainment, with the greatest challenges in the poorer, rural provinces.

Ø     Living Environment Deprivation, which includes the number of people living in a household having no access to a telephone; no piped water inside the dwelling or yard or within 200 metres; no electricity for lighting; living in a shack; living without a pit latrine with ventilation or a flush toilet; and living in a household having two or more people per room.

A copy of the Provincial Indices of Multiple Deprivation for South Africa 2001 report can be downloaded by visiting www.statssa.gov.za/census01/html/PMID/PIMDReport2006.pdf.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.