Poverty is an issue of enduring concern across the world. Far from being a transitory phenomenon, poverty in the Southern African context has a strongly structural character:
- Poverty rates tend to be persistently high, and there are large populations of people locked into chronic poverty with little opportunities for social mobility or escape. These aspects of poverty are closely linked to deeply entrenched forms of economic and social inequality. In South Africa (and increasingly in other parts of Southern Africa) these forms of poverty are closely connected to landlessness. While in other parts of the world de-agrarianisation can be linked to pathways out of poverty, as migrants gain access to non-farm employment in the urban formal or informal sector, de-agrarianisation in South Africa is ‘jobless’ in nature: large numbers of people are being pushed off the land (not only by the racist legislation of the past, but also by market forces) but fail to find an economic foothold in the non-farm economy.
- These dynamics create huge challenges for pro-poor policy. Despite widespread agreement on the need to address and eliminate poverty and inequality, dominant models for understanding and addressing poverty (both on the neoliberal right and on the social democratic left) are inadequate to the challenges posed by the deep forms of structural marginalization created by jobless de-agrarianisation. Many policies aimed at reducing poverty and creating opportunities for growth have had paradoxical or unintended consequences, sometimes deepening the divides that separate urban and formal ‘insiders’ from rural and informal outsiders.
SAITA conducts research on poverty, inequality and vulnerability in a broader commitment to ‘public sociology’. It aims to strike a balance between scholarly publication, policy advice to government and donor agencies, and intervention in public debates and public education about the causes and dynamics of poverty.