Painfully slow progress in beating back poverty

04 April 2014 - 02:05 By Sipho Masombuka
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GO FIGURE: Statistician-general Pali Lehohla
GO FIGURE: Statistician-general Pali Lehohla
Image: Business Times

Despite a general decrease in poverty, the people of Nkandla municipality in KwaZulu-Natal - where the government spent R246-million to upgrade President Jacob Zuma's homestead - continue to live in extreme deprivation.

Statistics SA's poverty trends survey for 2006 to 2011, released in Pretoria yesterday, singled out KwaZulu-Natal as South Africa's most impoverished province, with more than 23% of its households below the poverty line of R620 a month.

Nkandla municipality was the fifth-most impoverished in the province.

Statistician-general Pali Lehohla said that though 4million fewer people experienced poverty in 2011 compared with 2006, poverty remained high and inequality "stubbornly" stagnant.

He said the rich - the top 20% of earners - accounted for 61.3% of national consumption whereas the poor (bottom 20%) accounted for only 4.3%.

The three poorest municipalities in South Africa are Msinga, in KwaZulu-Natal, Ntabankulu, in Eastern Cape, and Umhlabuyalingana, in KwaZulu-Natal.

In absolute numbers, Limpopo accounted for the highest number of impoverished South Africans at 65%, followed by Eastern Cape at 60% and KwaZulu-Natal at 58%.

The number of people living below the poverty line with respect only to food decreased from 12.6million in 2006 to 10.2million in 2011, but the report showed a jump to 15.8million during the 2009 global recession.

In 2006 there were 27.1million people below the poverty line for food, clothing and shelter. That figure dropped to 23million in 2011.

Key factors in the declines are growth in incomes of 16.7%, expansion of social grants - beneficiaries increased by 46% - and expansion of unsecured credit, which doubled since 2006.

Almost 56% of people under 18 were said to live in poverty, 49% of those between 18 and 24, and 30% of those between 45 and 54.

"Women experience poverty more than [men] . black people experienced more poverty, followed by coloureds and Indians, but whites experienced almost no poverty," Lehohla said.

He said R31.7-billion a year would be needed to reach the National Development Goal of eliminating poverty by 2030, using the lower-bound poverty line of R433 a month for a single person.

The Human Science Research Council's deputy executive director for economic performance and development, Ivan Turok, said social grants and unsecured borrowing could not eradicate poverty.

"Loans postpone the problem. Social grants are not a cure," he said. "What we need is economic development and employment."

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