Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Class Not Colour in South Africa

Thabo Mbeki referred to South Africa as being a country divided into two countries, inequality was defined as an inter-racial phenomenon. But its dynamics have changed over the past two decades. Intra-racial inequality – inequality within race groups – has grown substantially, especially among black South Africans. 

Inequality is no longer simply a black and white issue. The richest 10%, who account for 70.9% of all wealth, is increasingly multi-racial, while around half of the population is considered chronically poor, and another 27% live with the threat of poverty.

Racial disparities in employment continue to prevail. Black South Africans are most likely to be unemployed and poor, while white South Africans are least likely to be unemployed and poor. But the South African Reconciliation Barometer (SARB), a nationwide public opinion survey by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR), shows that South Africans consistently identify “inequality” – the gap between rich and poor – as the greatest division in society.

A recent World Bank report titled Overcoming Poverty and Inequality in South Africa confirmed that “inequality has increased since the end of apartheid”.

Richer households, according to the report, are almost 10 times wealthier than poor households. South Africa remains among the most unequal countries in the world, with a Gini coefficient for income per capita at 0.68. Stats SA records the Gini coefficient for income per capita among black South Africans at 0.65. The income gap among black South Africans is only slightly smaller than the national income gap. The University of Cape Town’s Southern African Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) shows the share of black South Africans in the top income decile has increased from 13.87 per cent in 1993 to 30.79 per cent in 2008. There has been little demographic change in the lower income deciles, and new research predicts the rich may yet get richer.

In 2001, Nicoli Nattrass and Jeremy Seekings claimed ‘inequality is driven by two income gaps: between an increasingly multiracial upper class and everyone else; and between a middle class of mostly urban, industrial or white collar workers and a marginalised class of black unemployed and rural poor.’

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