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Review of Poverty and Inequality in South Africa / On Borders


By Sarah Bracking

May, Julian (ed.), Poverty and Inequality in South Africa: Meeting the Challenge, (London, Zed Books, 2000), ISBN 1-85649-808-5, £16.95

McDonald, David A (ed.), On Borders: Perspectives on International Migration in Southern Africa, (South African Migration Project, St. Martin's Press, 2000), ISBN 0-312-23268-3, $36

May, Poverty and Inequality in South Africa: Meeting the Challenge, covers all aspects of poverty in South Africa, and traces the policy instruments, procedures, documents and data which have been generated in post-apartheid South Africa concerning the incidence and causes of poverty and inequality. From a policy perspective this means that the book outlines the character of the first Reconstruction and Development Programme, the macro-economic policies of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy (GEAR), and is itself born in the Poverty and Inequality Report (PIR) commissioned by the South African government in 1997, and includes an account of the South African participatory poverty assessment exercise (SA-PPA). The book is replete with the best available empirical evidence on the incidence of poverty, and also contains some good theoretical accounts of the differences between income-poverty, deprivation, inequality, and the nature of livelihoods. The record of the South African government in increasing social spending and enacting 'pro-poor' budgetary instruments sits uneasily with the evidence that the legacy of apartheid still causes entrapment in poverty and the macro-economic scenario allows little surplus for purposes of redistribution. The SA-PPA put a figure of R15 billion, or 4% of GDP in 1993 (ed. May 2000, 30), on how much money was required to close the total poverty gap, (i.e. the amount that is needed annually to wipe out poverty through a perfectly targeted transfer to the poor). It seems that well-intentioned researchers can produce accurate figures, but that institutional, market and power structures still militate against effective action.

McDonald, On Borders: Perspectives on International Migration in Southern Africa, also began life in a research context, under the auspices of the Southern African Migration Project, which conducted interviews with an extraordinary 6,901 individuals in South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Namibia (from 29 countries, in more than 20 languages, with approximately 200 questions per person, and needing 100 researchers!) on their experience of, and attitudes toward cross-border movement and migration. The book also contains an excellent overview of historical patterns of migration, such as contract mine migration, and separate chapters on each country and its historical links to South Africa, all of which illustrate the fundamental economic and social contributions that migrants have made.

The book has the primary purpose of countering irrational xenophobia in South Africa, and more broadly aims to inform the legislative reform of immigration policy by encouraging a more liberal migration policy regime capable of managing temporary and circular flows 'in a rational and humane manner', while distinguishing between other obligations such as those toward refugees and contract workers. The book both counters the proliferation of misinformation concerning migration, and illustrates all the nuances, national differences and typical attributes and attitudes of migrants. It succeeds in illustrating that "instead of the stereotypical image of the impoverished, illiterate and parasitical "alien" of officialdom and the popular press: 93% of the sample population are in the country legally; 49% have partners; more than a third are heads of households; more than 90% own their own home; 78% are working; and 73% have at least some secondary school education" (177).

The research also divines from the interviewees what they would see as a fair immigration policy. Interestingly, migrants themselves mostly expected equal economic rights in South Africa, like access to a job, but only very few expected political rights such as voting or citizenship. Also, the majority saw borders as important, and intended to leave once their reason for visiting, such as to trade, was over.

This book is full of impressive data and good intention. The question remains whether the South African government, and more broadly SADC, can now enact such a policy to positively underline the importance of migrants and migration.

[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 63 (2000), pp. 83-84]

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