Taking steps to overcome inequality in South Africa.


Engagement is needed at all levels to address ongoing inequality faced in South Africa. This was the primary aim of a recent policy seminar (/node/103881) in Pretoria, organized through the framework of the Mandela Initiative and partners, including UNU-WIDER.

The idea of the gathering was to engage a group of people to inform policy-making on strategies to overcome inequality, poverty, and unemployment. For that, UNU-WIDER researchers and other distinguished international and South African scholars gathered at the event, alongside policy makers and representatives of the South African civil society.

In this blog, I review some of the key points covered at the joint event that can help shed light on the current situation of the country and provide some hints about the best way to make meaningful change possible too.

An unequal society, the legacy of apartheid

The participants built a narrative of the many challenges that South Africa faces today as one of the most unequal societies in the world. South Africa has witnessed since the end of apartheid dramatic political, social and economic structural transformations. As faced by other countries that have transitioned from authoritarianism to democracy, one challenge has been that old characteristics governed the transition, protecting some pre-existing structures of political and economic power.

To some extent, South Africa continues to be trapped in the legacy of racial segregation. Many examples of factors that help to perpetuate existing inequalities were pointed out at the event, including:

(1.) a labour market highly stratified by population groups (/node/75345)

(2.) the spatial segmentation of the population by race and income class

(3.) or the lack of access to land property titles (/node/2259) and water resources, which facilitate the capital the poor need to increase their economic opportunities.

Challenges of structural transformation

The South African economy quickly moved from the predominance of mining or agriculture sectors, employing significant amounts of unskilled workers, towards a service and capital-intensive economy (/node/48443). In the process, it witnessed a fast and premature urbanization without the traditional expansion of the manufacturing sector. These trends, combined with the challenges of globalization and technological change, have favoured skilled workers. Their returns to education significantly increased, pushing up earnings inequality. Only the substantial...

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