South Africa’s social landscape is disfigured by poverty, inequality and mass unemployment. Poverty in South Africa: Past and Present argues that it is impossible to think coherently or constructively about poverty, and the challenge it poses, without a clear understanding of its origins, its long-term development, and it’s changing character over time. This historical overview seeks to show how poverty in the past has shaped poverty in the present.
Colin Bundy traces the lasting scars left on the face of South African poverty by colonial dispossession, coerced labour and segregation; and by a capitalist system distinctive for its reliance on cheap, right-less black labour. While the exclusion of the poor occurs in very many countries, in South Africa it has a distinctive extra dimension. Here, poverty has been profoundly racialised by law, by social practice, and by prejudice. He shows that the ‘solution’ to the ‘poor white question’ in the 1920s and ’30s had profound and lasting implications for black poverty. After an analysis of urban and rural poverty prior to 1948, he describes the impact of apartheid policies and social engineering on poverty. Over four decades, apartheid reshaped the geography and demography of poverty.
This pocket history concludes with two chapters that assess the policies and thinking of the ANC government in its responses to poverty. One describes the remarkable story of the social security programme developed by the ANC in government since 1994, and finds that cash transfers – pensions and grants – have been the most effective mechanism of redistribution used by the ANC, even though the party remains edgy and anxious about a ‘culture of entitlement’. A final chapter reviews the distribution and dimensions of contemporary poverty, inequality and unemployment, and considers available policy options – and their shortcomings.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Colin Bundy is one of South Africa’s foremost historians and the former Principal of Green Templeton College, Oxford. His books include The Rise and Fall of the South African Peasantry and three Jacana pocketbooks, biographies of Nelson Mandela and Govan Mbeki, and Short-changed? South Africa since Apartheid.
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