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Poverty in South Africa Today: Dimensions, Distribution and Policy Dilemmas

13 Sep 2016 - 13:00

Colin Bundy delivered this evening lecture on Monday 12th September 2016 with Andrew Donaldson as discussant.
His latest book, 'Poverty in South Africa, Past and Present' was on sale.

When it took office in 1994, the party led by Mandela viewed combatting poverty as an immediate political imperative. ‘Attacking poverty and deprivation’, pronounced the RDR, ‘must … be the first priority of a democratic government.’ Yet how effectively was this priority addressed? To stay with the metaphor: the ANC government has waged an attritional trench warfare, fighting foes on three linked fronts: poverty, inequality and unemployment. The modest gains it made in reducing poverty were offset by a failure to take any ground on the other two fronts. After sketching how government’s approaches have changed over time, Prof Bundy asked what policy options are available to any South African government trying to reduce poverty, unemployment and inequality. To what extent are domestic solutions compromised by the prevailing logic of globalised capitalism? Can an ANC government simultaneously serve the interests of BEE capitalists, black middle-class professionals, skilled and unionised workers – and the unemployed and the poor? If unemployment – obviously – keeps people poor, what realistic prospects are there for more successful public works programmes or other forms of job creation? Any positive answer to such questions will require a political solution, not a technical one.

Colin Bundy is an historian, who retired after a career as an academic and university administrator. He served as Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, Principal of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and Principal of Green Templeton College, Oxford. As a scholar he was best known for his Rise and Fall of a South African Peasantry; he was co-
author (with William Beinart) of Hidden Struggles in Rural South Africa. Since 2012 he has published four books in the Jacana Pocket series: Govan Mbeki (2012), Short-changed? South Africa since apartheid (2014), Nelson Mandela (2015) and Poverty in South Africa: Past and Present. He has published over 50 articles and chapters on South African history and politics.

Andrew Donaldson is a Deputy Director-General in the National Treasury and Acting Head of the Government Technical Advisory Centre. GTAC provides advisory services on infrastructure projects, public-private partnerships, project management and public finance management, planning and organization. He was formerly Deputy Director-General for Public Finance, responsible for spending policy and budget advice. Recent responsibilities have included the Treasury’s work on social security and retirement reform, creation of the Jobs Fund and establishment of the Government Technical Advisory Centre.