The experience of poverty in South Africa: A summary of Afrobarometer indicators, 2000-2011


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Afrobarometer surveys generate a variety of measures of individuals’ economic status and experience with poverty, which can be compared at both the sub-national (e.g., by province or urban vs. rural) and cross-national levels. The surveys also collect data on respondents’ access to and utilization of public services, and on their political engagement. This bulletin presents findings on the experience of poverty in South Africa based primarily on the most recent Afrobarometer survey (Round 5, 2011), providing information that may be useful for policymakers and activists working on poverty-related concerns.

The findings are presented in five sections. The first section details Afrobarometer’s poverty indicators (e.g., access to food and clean water) over time in the South African context. The second section illustrates the cross-country differences between South Africa and other countries in Southern Africa across the poverty indicators. Section 3 provides data on South Africans’ ownership of particular goods (e.g. motor vehicles) and access to household facilities (e.g. water and latrine), which can serve as additional indicators of household economic status. The fourth section details the provision of public goods (e.g. schools, clinics and markets), and explores how South Africans’ varying levels of poverty are linked to their access to good quality public services, such as medical care. Finally, Section 5 presents findings regarding differences in political and community-based participation among South Africans’ at varying levels of poverty. In sum, the sections taken together give some indication about South Africans’ diverse experiences with poverty, and how these different experiences influence their political engagement.