[DEBATE] : Slaves to poverty
grinker at mweb.co.za
Thu Nov 15 17:55:57 GMT 2007
Slaves to poverty
Bheki Ntshalintshali, Sowetan, 15 November 2006
Broken down province by province, new data reveals South Africans may be
free, but poverty is rocketing and 4,2m live on less than R7 a day
The South African Institute of Race Relations recently confirmed what Cosatu
and other critics of the government's economic policies have been saying for
many years - that South Africa is a world leader in inequality.
One of the key features to come out of SAIRR's South African Survey is the
persistent and growing level of income inequality, particularly among
Africans, since 1996. Using the "Gini coefficient", it showed that in
comparison to other countries, South Africa remains one of the most unequal
The Gini coefficient is defined as a measure of statistical dispersion most
prominently used as to measure of inequality of income distribution or
inequality of wealth distribution. It is defined as a ratio with values
between zero and 100. A low Gini coefficient indicates more equal income or
wealth distribution, while a high Gini coefficient indicates more unequal
Zero corresponds to perfect equality (everyone having exactly the same
income) and 100 corresponds to perfect inequality (where one person has all
the income, and everyone else has zero income). The Gini coefficient
requires that no one has a negative net income or wealth. South Africans
have seen an increase from 60 in 1996 to 65 in 2005, the highest of the
countries in the table.
Broken down by province, the data revealed that inequality was highest in
provinces with large poor or rural populations, with Eastern Cape,
KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga all with Gini coefficients of 65. The
situation was not much better in South Africa's richest provinces, Gauteng
and Western Cape, with Gini scores of 59 and 58 respectively.
The extent of this growing income gap was exposed in the fourth Annual
Mabili report on Directors and CEO Salaries for 2007.
Steve Booysen of Absa received an all-inclusive package of R17,5 million,
while Sean Summers of Pick 'n Pay received R10,19 million a year. He sold
off some of his R13,5 million worth of shares in Pick 'n Pay during the year
, making his total take-home package R23,69 million a year.
In contrast to these astronomical salaries, the minimum wage for a worker in
Absa is R50 000 a year or (R4167 a month), and at Pick 'n Pay it is R30 000
a year (R2500 a month). An ordinary Pick 'n Pay worker would have to work
nearly eight centuries to earn what Summers did in a year!
But that person would at least have a job. The 8million South Africans who
are unemployed and their families are even worse off. Despite the creation
of some new jobs, unemployment remains just below 40percent, by the expanded
definition which does not exclude those who have given up trying to find
The rate at which jobs are being created moreover, is nowhere near fast
enough to cater for those entering the labour market each year, so that the
effect on the percentage rate has been minimal.
The quality of jobs is also dropping, as more and more are becoming casual,
temporary, insecure and low-paid. According to the Labour Force Survey, 16,7
percent of all officially employed people in South Africa earn less than
R500 a month, 34,3 percent earn under R1000 a month and a total of 54
percent of all workers earn less than R2500 a month. The workers' share in
the national income has declined since 1994, while the share of profits has
increased. Overall 40percent to 50 percent of the population live in
It comes as no surprise therefore that, according to another recent SAIRR
survey, severe poverty levels in South Africa have doubled in the last 10
years. It says that poverty increased "dramatically" between 1996 and 2005.
"Using the globally-accepted measure of poverty, of people living on less
than one US dollar (currently equivalent to R6,76) a day, poverty has
increased in South Africa, both in absolute numbers and proportionally. In
1996, some 1,9 million South Africans survived on less than one US dollar a
day. This had increased to 4,2 million by 2005.''
The survey shows that Limpopo has the highest percentage of people living in
poverty, followed by KwaZulu-Natal. Western Cape had the smallest percentage
of its population living on less than a dollar a day - though this had
fallen between 1996 and 2005.
The only other province with less than 5percent of its population living in
poverty was Gauteng. Yet even there, in South Africa's economic hub, poverty
also increased markedly, from 1 percent in 1996 to 3,5percent in 2005.
All this paints a picture of a society in which positive economic growth
coexists with rising inequality.
While the new wealth being created by this growth enables a limited, lucky
few to become richer than ever, the working poor, the unemployed and
poverty- stricken communities are at best getting a few crumbs from the
table, while millions are sinking deeper into poverty.
* Bheki Ntshalintshali is deputy general secretary of Cosatu
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