Sticking to the Facts: Official and Unofficial Stories about Poverty and Unemployment in South Africa

"Poverty’s major cause is unemployment. In the unlikely event that unemployment is halved by 2014, there will still be millions of people in South Africa in workerless households. The only way to address this is to develop a truly comprehensive social protection system. This paper looks at aspects of the way government responds to claims that are made, chiefly by academics, about poverty and unemployment. Bearers of good tidings are effusively welcomed while critics are dismissed with a hail of numbers about the achievements, actual or projected, of the democratic government. The second part of the paper looks at an old chestnut, the repeated claim by government that the severity of the unemployment problem has (in part?) to do with the ‘fact’ that the number of economically active people has grown faster than the number of working age people. The claim is false, and may readily be seen to be so. It sits awkwardly with the equally frequently repeated claim that ‘we are on target to halve unemployment’. The usefulness of the (false) claim is presumably the sympathy and understanding it evokes for the plight of a government faced, in its attempts to solve an immensely difficult problem, by continually moving goalposts. The third part of the paper looks briefly at the Van der Berg et al (2005) poverty reduction estimates for the period 2000-2004 (they have the headcount falling from 18.5 to 15.4 million), before reproducing my estimates for the period 2001-2004 (the headcount falls from about 19.5 to somewhere in the region of 18 million)."