Some background facts

After the ANC came to power, “by every measure (life expectancy, morbidity, access to food, water etc) the living conditions of the poor rapidly worsened.”7 The national unemployment level is 42 per cent (September 2003). In some of the poorer areas, the figure reaches 80 per cent or even higher. There is no unemployment benefit or social aid. There is a state pension, so often whole families live on one person’s pension. Almost half of the households in Soweto survive on an old-age pension of R540 [rand] a month. In 2000, government child-care grants were reduced from R420 to R100, and now only apply to under-7s. New criteria also meant many people being thrown off disability grants. More and more people are turning to crime, begging and prostitution.

An average of R400 a month is needed for rent, light and water, but by 2002 the majority of the population was living on less than R140 (about $15) per month. A typical job would involve working eleven or twelve hours a day, seven days a week for R150 per week. Cleaners employed by the council for R22 a day spend R14 a day on the bus fare to work.

Over 20 per cent of the adult population is infected with HIV, compared to 0.1 per cent in the UK. Life expectancy at birth in South Africa is 48. In the UK it is 78 years old.

However, South Africa also has one of the ten largest stock exchanges in the world, and a GDP per capita of US$10,700. But the richest 10 per cent of the population shares 46 per cent of the wealth (compared to 27 per cent in the UK). The poorest 10 per cent shares a mere 1 per cent of the wealth. While South Africa is classified as a middle-income country, it has a Gini coefficient – the measurement of inequality – of 0.58, the second-highest in the world after Brazil. South Africa also has one of the worst records in terms of social indicators (health, education, safe water, fertility). The government made a commitment to privatise all the public companies in South Africa under the 1996 ‘Growth, Employment and Re-distribution’ (GEAR) programme. In order to make these companies more attractive to potential buyers and fetch a better price, the government tried to clear any outstanding debts.