Two thirds of South African Households Are Poor

Statistics South Africa released it’s annual report titled “Selected development indicators” yesterday, 3 May 2011. The report provides important data on government performance on its programmes. One of the most important descriptors is an attempt to measure the extent of poverty in South Africa. The report defines the poor as households with a monthly expenditure of R 2500-00 of below. This measure shows that two-thirds of South African’s households are poor.
Based on the data available, the calculations for each province was undertaken, which shows variances across the provinces. These are represented in the table below:

IndicatorsTotal Number of HouseholdsNumber of households classified as poor using household monthly expenditure of below R2500-00 as the cut-off% of households with monthly expenditure below R 2500-00
Western Cape158173246.3
South Africa14756978866.3
Free State90761667.9
North West100670970.5
Northern Cape32723170.6
Eastern Cape1820143078.6

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Infrastructure Investment Catalyses Social Accord

Photo: Hannelie Coetzee,

Towards an infrastructure investment social accord

In the last session of the second annual Economic Development Programme conference hosted by the Economic Development Department, a series of remarkable commitments emerged from business and labour leaders, on government’s Infrastructure Investment Plan.
The session chair and convener of the Economic Development Conference, Minister Ebrahim Patel posed a series of questions to the panelists focused around commitment to the plan and the commitments sectors were willing to make . The panel consisted of:

  •  Bobby Godsell, President, Business Leadership South Africa
  • Zwelinvima Vavi, General Secretary, Congress of South African Trade Unions,
  • Ndaba Ntsele, President, Black Business Council

Bobby Godsell representing Business Leadership South Africa argued that the long term nature of the infrastructure investment framework provided the space for business to think about the next twenty years as opposed to the next quarter. In turn, he argued that the private sector should “seek a realistic and sensible” rate of return. The rate of return he ventured would be a real return, but would be in single digits.

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Brazil becomes less equal, South Africa gets more unequal

Inequality can be reduced

, via Wikimedia Commons “]Brazil has a remarkable achievement, as it has reduced inequality over the last decade, as shown in the chart below. The exact reasons for the reduction in inequality is hotly debates in Brazil, as are the methods of calculating inequality. There are sceptics on this outcome, and those praising this achievement. Just so that we are clear – Brazil remains a very unequal society. South Africa has however become more unequal, and this fact is not disputed with official development indicators broadly agreeing with this finding. The chart below shows data from The World Bank for the Gini Coefficient. We have selected the BRICS countries to represent here, but the focus is Brazil and South Africa. It suggests that over a short period of time, inequality can be reduced, in an environment which reduces poverty and increases jobs. (I have added a note to the editorial calendar for Zapreneur, as it would be informative to better understand the reasons behind the outcomes.)


One debate that is emerging on explaining Brazil’s outcomes is occurring under the moniker “Lulismo”. The word derives from the name of President Lula, and seeks to explain the choices that were made by Brazil during that period. It however also suggests that there might be doubts of future leaders being able to replicate the gains capable under a leader, like President Lula. The debate however is largely conducted in Portuguese, which means that the textures and nuances of the debate cannot be fully comprehended by someone that does not speak Portuguese.
The features of the debate that we could glean ask a couple of demanding questions:

  1. Is the reduction of inequality a small victory for moving a leftist programme to the centre? The suggestion being that a more egalitarian outcome could have been achievable.
  2. Are the results simply derived from a commodity boom and will prove short-lived in an economic downturn?
  3. Are Brazil outcomes rather the product of a longer run reform programme, which included neo-liberal restructuring under previous administrations?
  4. Are the Brazilian outcomes the result of a developmental state, which saw the Workers Party (PT) introduce social and economic measures that are the cornerstone of the success?

The debate seems furious and polarised. The underlying question is one that South Africa would love to have -Why has our society become more equal, and can we sustain it over the longer term?

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Educational Failures – Are Trade Unions Too Blame?

Andile Lungisa’s – Chairperson of the National Youth Development Agency and  ANCYL leader – call for the de-unionisation of teaching has sparked a furore. The arguments focus on the constitutional right for workers to belong to organisation, and that focus must be placed on the real problems facing education. I however argue that the problems in labour relations in the education lies not only with the trade unions, but with government, who have not fulfilled their responsibility as an employer.
Improving education in South Africa is the most important priority in South Africa. When I look at our results on the international benchmark examinations, I am angry with us as a society. We have literally failed a generation of children in South Africa. To put it bluntly, we perform very poorly on the international examinations, with some assessments of the results placing last in the world for performance on the Mathematics examinations. We are facing a crisis in education, and we must act.
Instead of acting to resolve the situation, there is this constant repetition that the trade unions are too blame. Here are a couple of refrains I have heard over the last few weeks:

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