Today, almost half of South Africans are living below the poverty line, surviving on just over R500 (Approximately $60) a month — an improvement from 1993, where this was the case for the majority of the population.
But, while poverty has gone down, the gap between the haves and have-nots has increased.
The country faces many challenges in this area. Last year's National Planning Commission’s Diagnostic Overview set out the key challenges that must be confronted in fighting poverty and inequality and in achieving the objectives set out in the Constitution. It found that, over and above the historical disadvantages which continue to dominate, two of the most pressing challenges facing the country are employment and education. Too few South Africans work (only 41% of adults are employed) and, in spite of the significant improvement of access to education, the quality of education remains very poor.
World Bank Report
A recently-released World Bank report found that a child’s gender and ethnicity at birth, combined with a lack of education, largely determine that person’s chances of success in life — even 18 years after the end of apartheid.
South Africa is often compared to Brazil, which also has a huge income gap, but while the Latin American country has narrowed the divide over the last decade, here the chasm is as deep as ever, the World Bank said.
The richest 10 percent of South Africans account for 58 percent of the nation’s income, while the bottom 10 percent accounts for 0.5 percent, the Bank said. The bottom half earns less than eight percent of the nation’s income.
“Peering past the first-world living conditions of urban South Africa, it is not too hard to see the downcast situation of townships, informal settlements, and former homelands,” said Sandeep Mahajan, who headed the report.
“Our results show that a South African child not only has to work harder to overcome the disadvantages at birth due to circumstances, but having done so, finds that these reemerge when seeking employment as an adult,” he said.
The report said residents of these areas were usually unemployed or lacked the means to look for jobs, as they were disconnected from the job market. Unemployment in the first quarter of 2012 rose to 25.2 percent, up from 23.9 percent in the previous quarter and, black people form the bulk of the jobless.
Modest economic growth, which averaged 3.2 percent since 1995, had proved “insufficient to absorb the wave of new entrants to the labour market from dismantling apartheid’s barriers”, the report said.
Much of the blame is laid on the education system.The World Bank found that black children from rural areas with parents who did not finish school were most likely not to finish school or have access to health care.
Forced to learn under trees
Children in some parts of the country are forced to learn in open spaces or under trees, even though education is the government’s single biggest expenditure.
This year education campaigners took the government to court after schools across the poor northern province of Limpopo were left without textbooks, months into the academic year. More than one month after a court order, government has not delivered books to all the schools.
“The only way to reverse the trend of inequality is to invest in education,” said economist Azar Jammine.
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