On 25 November 2013, Concerned Africans Forum (CAF) convened at the the University of Johannesburg Faculty where MISTRA Executive Director, Mr Joel Netshitenzhe, delivered the keynote address which focused on the extent and implications of inequality in South Africa. A version of this paper was also presented at the HSRC Social Science Research Conference on Inequalities and Justice: Influences, Effects, Intersections and Evidence (26-27 Sep 2013).
The dynamics of inequality in South Africa have evinced various trends since the advent of democracy. While income inequality among the racesmay have somewhat declined, this is not necessarily the case with regard to the income gap among various social strata within the population as whole. Rising income inequality is not unique to South Africa: it finds expression in most OECD countries, and even in countries such as China where poverty has been reduced. Yet Brazil seems to have succeeded in the past few years to buck the trend. What are reasons behind these global trends, and what are the lessons that South Africa can draw from these experiences?
The burden of inequality falls inordinately on the poor and the marginalised. Yet, as Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrate in their book, The Spirit Level, inequality has a negative impact even on the rich. This relates to such issues as the magnitude of violent crime, educational performance and even teenage pregnancies among both the rich and the
poor. It also relates to the magnitude and quality of economic growth. It is therefore in the interest of all sectors of society that inequality is addressed.
In trying to identify holistic approaches to address inequality, it is necessary to look beyond income inequality and interrogate indicators such as assets, access to services and opportunity, and social capital. These indicators articulate with one another in virtuous or adverse ways, depending on the effectiveness or otherwise of the interventions applied. How does South Africa fare in this regard?
Measures required to deal with inequality include the absorption of more people into economic activity, quality education, efficient public services, progressive taxation and appropriate spatial settlement patterns. While economic growth is critical to dealing with inequality, such growth should be pro-‐poor; and pro-‐poor economic and social interventions should bepro-‐growth. It is appropriate that public policy should target both the reduction of poverty and inequality, proceeding from the understanding that the reduction of poverty may not necessarily result in the reduction of inequality.
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