This extended essay will be discussing poverty and the subsequent inequalities relative to South Africa

This extended essay will be discussing poverty and the subsequent inequalities relative to South Africa. This idea stemmed from my personal experiences as a South African national who has witnessed informal settlements as well as poverty stricken rural areas. My purpose of the essay to discuss the extent of influence that certain factors of poverty, namely unemployment, land ownership and distribution and one more reason, have had with regards to forming current day inequalities in South African society. Poverty in South Africa is a complex issue that takes it roots back to the history of the country. Ending in 1994, the Apartheid plagued South African society for 50 years. Although the official time period of the Apartheid began in 1948, the Land Act of 1913, was passed which meant that a large percentage of the country’s land was handed over to white people. Previous European colonialism that begun in 17th century resulted in widespread racial segregation becoming prevalent and it led to African farmers being forced into sharecropping or farm labour (Aliber). It is important to define poverty and analyze what it means before delving into the esoteric nature of the topic. Many people assume that poverty is simply the lack of money or wealth, and while this is true to a certain extent, it is just a generalization that we create in an attempt to understand the topic on a daily basis. Due to this it can be said that “Poverty is a multidimensional and multifaceted concept.” (Brynard, Policies and Poverty in Southern Africa). When truly understood, the reader should be able to visualize poverty as the result of a system that has multiple cogs and compartments of varying shapes that are simultaneously working together to produce a certain outcome, in this case the result would be poverty. This idea of poverty being “multidimensional”, as stated by Brynard, will allow for the concepts being discussed in this essay to be received on a more syntopical level thus allowing a thorough appreciation for the factors at play. Consequently, one should understand that chronic poverty is when a community or a person remains in a state of poverty for a duration of time due to certain factors. This type of poverty tends to be passed on to children of the next generation due to an inability to escape such circumstances. (Chronic Poverty Research Centre)


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One of the factors that causes poverty in South African society is the levels of employment. The reason why this is an important factor is because employment provides people with the necessary income that they need in order to live properly. Therefore, if a person is unemployed then it will result in a lack of income. Due to this, basic needs such as food, water, accommodation or living quarters will become an inaccessible luxury which eventually renders a person into poverty. In terms of inequalities, lack of employment worsens it because unemployment causes imbalances in society where a large percentage of people are unable to get work, this can result in many other issues, with crime being one of the most prevalent after effects. This is evident in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, a province that has the well-known Port Elizabeth and East London situated there, has a population of 6.562 million (Population). For the years 2015 and 2016, the national and murder provincial murder rates per 100,000 people showed that the Eastern Cape had a value of 52.8 people, used courtesy of Africa Check, a non-profit organisation which promotes accuracy in public debate. ( Interestingly enough, the Eastern Cape has the highest rates of unemployment with a rate of 35.6% (Algoa FM). If we really think about this, that is around 2 million out of the population, which is an extremely high number which means a large percentage of Eastern Cape society are living in dangerous and tough conditions. As well as this, it is important to look at the income distribution in terms of race, considering the history of South Africa. Although lack of employment results in economic troubles such as no income resulting in poverty, it also adds to social inequalities by creating wage gaps between racial groups in the country. If the average household incomes of the Eastern Cape are taken into consideration, it will shed some light on the existence of social inequalities due to unemployment. The average household incomes in the Eastern cape can be broken down into agricultural and non-agricultural households. This can be further expanded into racial sectors such as Whites, Africans, Coloureds and Asians. African agricultural households have an average income of 13,690 Rands, and Coloured agricultural households come in at 12,749 Rands. As for White agricultural households, they have an average of 145,806 Rands. On the other hand, African and Coloured non-agricultural households have a higher income than their counterparts, with 21,070 Rands for African non-agricultural households and 41,197 Rands for Coloured non-agricultural households. Although there is an increase in the average household income for African and Coloured households, it is still significantly less than White non-agricultural households who have an average household income of 154,338 Rands (Punt, Pauw and Schoor). The disparity of income levels between the racial sectors are clear and this highlights how much of an impact unemployment has on South African Society. As we can see, African and Coloured households are the most affected by income inequalities which can be linked back to two things: how much employment and how skilled each racial sector is. According to data by the PROVIDE project, unemployment in Eastern Cape is higher for African and Coloured people at 29.2% and 30%, whereas White and Asian households have an unemployment percentage of less than 5%. With this perspective, we can see that the racial sectors who have the higher rates of unemployment and are on the lower spectrum of the wage gap tend to be the ones with higher levels of poverty. Evidence for this is seen in the Eastern Cape, where African people have a poverty rate of 73.8% and Coloured people 48.7% whereas White and Asian people had “virtually no poverty”. So in terms of the extent of poverty affecting current day inequalities, we can say that although chronic poverty is a result of unemployment, with this regard it does cause inequality however other factors such as racial biases or skill levels of each racial group add to income inequalities. Consequently, poverty is not the only factor for such inequalities. Additionally, the data above has brought up another important factor regarding the levels of inequality in current day South African society which is the distribution of land ownership as well as usage across the different racial sectors.

Land ownership and distribution in South Africa has an important part in current day inequalities that plague society. The type of land, whether it is rural or urban, is an important factor with regards to poverty as each land offers different types of characteristics to being situated there. Furthermore, the types of inequalities present will differ as well as the extent of the factors of poverty with regards to the inequalities created. Generally speaking, land provides people with a sense of security as it allows for self-sustenance and allows people certain freedoms that otherwise wouldn’t be available without land. Land ownership is especially important for poorer rural occupants as it provides them with the necessary land to grow crops, which will provide them with a certain level of income. For example, land ownership in the Eastern Cape of South Africa by Africans during 1994 was 28%, however, in 2016 the number has nearly doubled with land ownership reaching 48.3% (Lange). According to the United Nations, millions of people lack land access and they are found in poorer rural areas as well as the informal settlements that happen during urban to rural migration. (Meinzen-Dick). As for South Africa, during the Apartheid land was redistributed to white people, resulting in a white minority owning majority of land and a majority of blacks owning a minor amount of land. Many areas known as “Bantustans” were setup specifically for black people to be forcefully relocated to. According to Michael Aliber, author of Chronic Poverty and Development Policy, states that apart from the social tensions created by the unequal distribution of land between racial groups, it is a source of keeping a family or an individual in chronic poverty. The problem is said to be due to three reasons; some rural people are landless, some have access to land however it is of no use because of the poor quality and lastly, not being able to extract any economic benefits from their land due to lack of knowledge and skill. Due to this and the fact that post-apartheid South Africa is undergoing rapid urbanization, there has been an increase in informal settlements. According to the graph above, urban development is well ahead of rural development in terms of water, electricity and sanitation facilities provided to individuals. It is evident that rural dwellers are the most poverty stricken, with 53.5% of poor people being located in such areas (Lehohla). The lack of infrastructure in rural areas has implications on South Africa such as increasing the disparity between rural and urban areas with regards to the quality of life present. Following on to this, formal sector employment in rural areas are not very common which increases the stagnant nature of rural life. This incites higher unemployment rates, and as discussed previously, a host of other issues such as crime can be seen.

The role of education with regards to current inequalities is of a very high relevance, due to the fact that education allows for higher levels of literacy and skill. Education is important because it allows a country to have a large working force that are highly skilled, which will in return boost the labour market productivity. Inequalities in South African schooling systems begin at around the third grade, where 60% of the poorest schools have students who have fallen behind on three years’ worth of education compared to the wealthier school students. This disparity only increases, and by the ninth grade the poorer students are put on the backburner by the fact that they are 5 years behind their wealthier counterparts in terms of level of education. If we look at some statistics, 44% of Black and Coloureds’, ages 23-24, had completed their matric whereas Indian and Whites’ had percentage completions of 83% and 88% (Spaull). Consequently, the quality of education that a person receives determines their success, therefore a low quality of education provided to poor people is a poverty trap as it doesn’t equip them with the necessary tools needed to escape such circumstances. If we take into consideration that majority of students in South Africa are poor, then that implies they will be falling behind in their studies due to their environmental circumstances such as poverty and lack of necessary facilities for studies. The most affected racial groups are Blacks and Coloureds. According to Spaull, 36% of the matric 2014 cohort passed, which highlights the quality of education that South Africa provides. He also makes a point that students who do not pass matric, unfortunately, do not have access to education and training afterwards. Of the reasons for such a low passing rate, dropping out of secondary school education is the leading factor. This branches out into four different subsets; lack of finance, the want for employment, failing grades and female pregnancies. It goes without saying that poverty and inequalities regarding education have a link with each other, where poverty limits the advancement of poor and disadvantaged students resulting in the gap between the poorer students and wealthier ones increasing. As for students who drop out to seek employment, it is quite ironic in that they remain in the lower skilled areas of employment, yet the successful graduates of matric are able to achieve higher qualifications and then eventually get higher skilled jobs. With this being said, the issue lies in the education system in that a lopsided education system eventually creates an unequal job market where low skilled jobs are taken up by children who never received adequate levels of education due to their poverty ridden or unequal environments. The top jobs in the market are then occupied by the wealthier students who have been lucky enough to receive a complete education. The catch to this is that the cycle repeats itself, which highlights that education being a factor of poverty, does encourage inequality in south African society with respect to the labour market (Spaull). An interesting point to take into consideration is that this disparity does have links to racial issues within South Africa, however with the changing dynamics of the country, it is more of a financial issue in that wealthier families are able to support their children through matric and then higher qualifications. Although majority of the poorer students are either Black or Coloured, this does not rule out the possibility for wealthy Black and Coloured students to exist, it just means there is a smaller chance for that to happen.
Health conditions, more specifically issues related to disease and illness, have a direct impact on individuals and societies. Health conditions can cause poverty or be a result of poverty, thus showing how it is quite dynamic with regards to its effects. According to Brynard, poverty leads to illness, which is understandable as poverty stricken areas lack the necessary protection and sanitation to prevent illness. After that, poverty escalates which then results in more illness. South Africa is known for having one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world, to be more precise, it is the fourth highest HIV/AID rates in the world. From 2002 to 2018, the South African population with HIV increased from around 4.94 million to 7.52 million. In addition to this, one fifth of South African women who are in the fertility age range of 15-49 years are HIV positive (Statisitcs South Africa). HIV/AIDS is an epidemic that is sweeping South Africa, and it will impact the country on a social as well as economic level. The impacts of the disease will be most hurtful towards individuals who are dealing directly with it, whether it be in themselves or a family member. One of my sources states that healthcare facilities will struggle to deal with the issue and that the government is unwilling to help support people who have the disease. According to that source, by 2010 at least 4 million deaths will have been due to AIDS. However, according to the Statistics South Africa Statistical Release, from 2002 to 2010 around 2.22 million people have died because of the disease. Apart from the HIV/AIDS epidemic, health issues have caused inequalities to occur within urban informal settlements. Occupants of an informal settlement are expected to have a shorter life expectancy compared to the national average which is due to the dangerous conditions in which they reside. Infectious diseases like TB are highly prevalent for 30-39 year old’s living in informal settlements (Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa). Having said that, living in informal settlements poses risks such as low morale and depressions which can be linked back to food insecurity, low levels of literacy, racial disparities and financial stresses, of which all result in poverty.

The inequalities present in south Africa is an intricate issue that has multiple causes to it that are all interrelated. Factors of poverty play a huge role in the dynamics of inequalities in that they can dictate the pace and effect of an inequality. An important factor of inequalities in south Africa has been the employment levels of the country. Considering this affects the labour market, which has an effect on the country’s overall economy. Issues related to employability cause inequalities in income structures within the labour market and they also lead to social inequalities where people are racially segregated. The effects of unemployment are extensive on South African society as they can dictate the income earned by different racial groups. As for inequalities related to land ownership and distribution, the most notable one would be the formation of inequalities between rural and urban dwellers with regards to the opportunities they have. Rural dwellers tend to be on the higher end of the spectrum with regards to the inequalities they face, which is attributed to poverty and living conditions. Lastly, education and the quality of it plays a role in the inequalities present within the education system. As for the role that factors of poverty play with regards to this inequality, they are quite extensive because such factors hinder an individual’s ability to leave poverty, thus they remain with an unequal quality education.


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