Chronic and Structural Poverty in South Africa: Challenges for Action and Research

"Ten years after liberation, the persistence of poverty is one of the most important and urgent problems facing South Africa. This paper reflects on some of the findings based on research undertaken as part of the participation of the Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape in the work of the Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC), situates it within the broader literature on poverty in South Africa, and considers some emergent challenges. Although PLAAS’s survey, being only the first wave of a panel study, does not yet cast light on short term poverty dynamics, it illuminates key aspects of the structural conditions that underpin long-term poverty: the close interactions between asset poverty, employment-vulnerability and subjection to unequal social power relations. Coming to grips with these dynamics requires going beyond the limitations of conventional ‘sustainable livelihoods’ analyses; and functionalist analyses of South African labour markets. The paper argues for a reengagement with the traditions of critical sociology, anthropology and the theoretical conventions that allow a closer exploration of the political economy of chronic poverty at micro and macro level."