The Poorest Province in South Africa

The world no doubt has one of the poorest province in South Africa which it is very well believed to be opposite to the popularly known wealthiest province, Gauteng. In Gauteng, only 4.6% of the population live in poverty. But the poverty experienced in Gauteng, the wealthiest province, is the most intense. Poverty in South Africa has deep historical roots that show up in more recent movements of people.

The reason so many South Africans live in poverty, in a middle-income country, is apartheid. Apartheid was a crude attempt at social engineering designed to make black South Africans a cheap and plentiful source of labor. Instead, it excluded the majority of the people from any meaningful participation in the economy. It made South Africa poorer than it should have been.

South Africa has a wealth of resources. But for more than 40 years, apartheid squandered this potential. A government policy designed to keep most of its people poor seems, and is, absurd.

But South Africa under apartheid was not a democracy. The only electorate the government had to please was white people. The apartheid planners purposefully built a system that prevented black South Africans from earning, prospering and contributing to the wealth of the country. That sucked the potential for growth out of the economy.

The Poorest Province in South Africa

When we talk about the poorest province in South Africa, there is no gainsaying the fact that the Eastern Cape is the poorest, that is, the poverty capital of the country. Around 880,000 of the mostly rural Eastern Cape’s people live in poverty.

Apartheid as Cause of Poverty

Today, geographical patterns of poverty on the map of South Africa still correspond to the apartheid “homelands”, barren rural regions far from cities, packed with people but with little infrastructure, no development and few jobs. Municipalities with high percentages of people living in poverty are today often found in regions that were once homelands.

Huge Migration

But when we look at total numbers of people living in poverty, the cities stand out. Cities have larger numbers of people, so more people living in poverty are likely to be found there. Migration from the rural areas to the cities is an important feature of recent South African history. Apartheid laws confined the poor to the rural areas. Once those laws were lifted in the late 1980s, poor people began to move to the cities – where they often stayed poor. And they keep moving.

Read Also: Causes and Consequences of Migration

Signs of Poverty in the Land

  • The health dimension has only one indicator: child mortality, or whether a child under the age of five living in the household has died in the past year.
  • Education has two indicators. One is years of schooling, or whether no person in the household aged 15 or older has completed five years of schooling. The other, school attendance, looks at whether any school-age child seven to 15 years old does not attend school.
  • Living standards has seven indicators, to do with fuel, water, sanitation, type of dwelling and ownership of assets. What fuel does the household use for lighting, heating and cooking? Is there piped water in the dwelling? Does the household have a flushing toilet? What kind of dwelling does the household live in? What does the household own?
  • Economic activity is measured by joblessness: whether all the adults, people aged 15 to 64, are out of work.

South African Provinces and Their Poverty Levels

Population Households Average household size Households in poverty People in poverty (based on population)* People in poverty (based on households)* Intensity of poverty
6,996,976 1,773,395 3.9 12.7% 888,616 878,363 43.3%
2,834,714 946,639 3 5.5% 155,909 156,195 41.7%
13,399,724 4,951,137 2.7 4.6% 616,387 614,931 44.1%
11,065,240 2,875,843 3.8 7.7% 852,023 841,472 42.5%
5,799,090 1,601,083 3.7 11.5% 666,895 681,261 42.3%
4,335,964 1,238,861 3.5 7.8% 338,205 338,209 42.7%
1,193,780 353,709 3.4 8.8% 105,053 105,830 42.5%
3,748,436 1,248,766 3 6.6% 247,397 247,256 42.0%
6,279,730 1,933,876 3.2 2.7% 169,553 167,087 40.1%

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