THE BLOG

A Poor Inheritance -- The Intergenerational Transmission Of Poverty

23 years on, inherited poverty rooted in the systematic oppression of the black majority remains unshaken.

25/09/2017 03:59 SAST | Updated 25/09/2017 06:26 SAST
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Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa.

As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of Bantu Stephen Biko's violent death at the hands of apartheid security police, we are reminded of his vision of the liberation of black South Africans in a democratic dispensation.

The anti-apartheid activist's thinking around this liberation saw black people with more than just political rights, he understood the need to achieve socio-economic emancipation to effectively deal with what could be seen as hereditary poverty. For Biko, freedom encompassed a tangible, material freedom from poverty and inequality that has plagued black South Africans since slavery.

For Nelson Mandela's African National Congress [ANC] and its alliance partners, political freedom was a necessary condition for wider socio-economic transformation. But 23 years on, inherited poverty rooted in the systematic oppression of the black majority remains unshaken.

Stats SA's latest Poverty Trends in South Africa report not only reflects that over 50 percent of the population lives in poverty, but that this faction of society is largely made up of black South African youth.

Thus, a cycle continues where black South Africans remain burdened by restrictions on their access to education, occupational rank and income. All of which are determinants of the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

With South Africa having submitted its Initial Report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the progress it has made to overcome the apartheid legacies of unequal access to education, healthcare, work, and other socioeconomic rights, it is clear that even government "successes" have had little impact on the status quo.

The report follows the country's ratification in 2015 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights [ICESCR], 23 years after it was signed by Mandela with the intention to redress the atrocities of the past.

Along with the Constitution, the covenant obligated the state to take concrete steps, using the maximum of its available resources, to ensure that access to these rights is progressively expanded so that all citizens can live a life of dignity.

The report notes spatial segregation in cities -- government's housing programme has been criticised for building low-cost housing only at the periphery of economic hubs. People of colour remain disadvantaged by long distances between their neighbourhoods and economic activity.

This racial divide is present in our health system, which is split between an expensive and inaccessible private sector which serves less than 20 percent of people in South Africa, mostly white, and a chronically under-resourced public sector serving the remaining 80 percent of the population.

Let's not forget the lack of transformation in the education sector, where township schools remain extremely underfunded in comparison to formerly white schools, continuing on apartheid Bantu education trajectories.

This is but one of the factors leading to higher school dropout rates among poor South Africans than other sections of society. This is made more concerning by the fact that, as SPII research demonstrates, there is a direct correlation between education levels and employment opportunities, further entrenching the relationship between education and poverty.

Poverty is transmitted from one generation to another, with the children of poor parents likely to become poor adults themselves.

The National Minimum Wage Research at the University of Witwatersrand found in a 2015 working paper that in poor households, income earners were financially responsible for at least 2.65 other people, where the ratio in wealthy households was one is to one.

A higher financial burden on poor South Africans leaves no room to accumulate any sort of wealth and break free from poverty; in fact, it only stands to perpetuate existing poverty cycles and social inequality.

A defining characteristic of chronically poor people is that they remain in poverty over a long period. For black South Africans, this means that poverty is transmitted from one generation to another, with the children of poor parents likely to become poor adults themselves.

As demonstrated, the intergenerational transmission of poverty, still the reality for black South Africans in today's 'post-apartheid' era, is the long-term effect of, amongst others, poor nutrition, inadequate education and healthcare, and a subsequent lack of opportunities.

In South Africa, poverty is inherited. Until structural and systematic changes are made, the cycle of poverty will continue and black South Africans will remain its face. It is an imposition, and by no means a choice. Until structural and systematic changes are made, the cycle of poverty will continue and black South Africans will remain its face.

As Biko noted in 1978: "The blacks are tired of standing at the touchlines to witness a game that they should be playing. They want to do things for themselves and all by themselves."

Seabe is a black radical feminist writer who was actively involved in #FeesMustFall protests, and is currently enrolled in the ASRI: Future Leaders Programme