Shocking levels of poverty in South Africa revealed

 ·3 Aug 2015

South Africa faces the ‘triple challenge’ of poverty, inequality and unemployment, according to a new report published by global aid and development charity, Oxfam.

The research titled: Is South Africa Operating in a Safe and Just Space? says that the future of South Africa depends on the country’s ability to end social deprivation and manage environmental stress, enabling its people to live in a space where it is both safe and just.

The report says that an estimated 816,000 ‘green’ jobs could be created in the country by 2025 across the areas of natural resource management (biodiversity, water and land), energy generation, energy efficiency and pollution management.

Oxfam noted that South Africa has one of the highest official unemployment rates in the world (25%) and is one of the most unequal countries, with a Gini coefficient of 0.69.

The wealthiest 4% of households receive 32% of total income while 66% of households receive only 21% of all income.

Over half of South Africans live below the national poverty line and more than 10% live in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 (R15.85) per day.

Read: Can you live on R25 a day?

Social foundation

The ‘social foundation’ developed for South Africa consists of energy, water, sanitation,
housing, education, health care, voice, jobs, income, household goods, food security and

According to Oxfam, a significant proportion of people are living below a decent social foundation as defined by the selected domains and thresholds. “This is particularly true in the areas of jobs, safety and income, the latter two of which have seen deteriorations since 1994.”

The report notes that the South African government has an ambitious target of 5.4% growth in gross domestic product (GDP) and 11 million new jobs by 2030.

“However, the achievement of that GDP growth will ring hollow if significant numbers of people are left below the social foundation. Growth for its own sake is insufficient – it must be good-quality growth that works for the poorest people first and foremost and significantly reduces inequalities,” the report’s author Megan Cole said.

An environmental ceiling

Severe environmental stresses are widespread as fresh water and food supplies are under pressure, air quality is in many places damaging health and carbon emissions breach safe levels and add to the pressure of climate change.

The poorest citizens are often those least likely to contribute to such environmental stresses as, for example, 24% of the population have no access to electricity, Oxfam said.

However, they are most likely to feel the negative impacts, as food prices mean that
23% cannot afford an adequate diet.

The report finds that South Africa has crossed its safe environmental boundaries for climate change, freshwater use, biodiversity loss and marine harvesting and is within 10% of crossing the boundaries for arable land use, phosphorous loading and air pollution.

A way forward

Failings of governance at all levels must be addressed if sustainable development is to be
effectively delivered.

The Oxfam commissioned report says that the government is investing over 20% of its annual budget on education, but with poor outcomes.

“This investment needs to be targeted to ensure that skills are developed that ultimately result in reduced inequality, job creation and poverty alleviation.”

“As global and local environmental changes accelerate, it will be critical to have the best possible science, technology, data and monitoring capabilities in order to adapt and make the right decisions. For this reason, investing in technological and scientific education should be a priority,” the report said.

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