Oxfam’s latest inequality report for South Africa confirms the country’s status as the most unequal in the world – especially for black women.
Titled “Reclaiming Power: Womxn’s Work and Income Inequality in South Africa November 2020”, the report by Dr Basani Baloyi and Sameer Dossani demonstrates the wealth gap but also the conditions that continue to perpetuate inequality, and why poverty is so hard to escape.
The authors note that most wealth levels are determined at birth meaning that if one does not have the right start in life, it is difficult to escape poverty. “Moving from poverty to a middle class status is like winning the lotto,” they note, with nine out of 10 South Africans’ earnings determined by what their parents earned.
The “right start” includes not only education but adequate shelter and location, good quality healthcare, and educated parents with well-paying jobs. A child raised by top earning parents was 70% likely to be a top earner when they work, the report notes.
The legacy of apartheid continues to privilege white men and women, at the expense of the rest. Young black women, aged 18 to 34 with a university degree earn 24 percent less than white women of the same age with the same qualification, while white men and women without matric have better median incomes compared to black women with matric, regardless of age.
The top 10 percent of income earners in South Africa earned 15 times that of the bottom 10 percent in 2010 and this grew to 21 times (five times) the incomes of the bottom 10 percent in 2016. As an example, the average CEO (mainly white and male) earns the equivalent of 461 black women from the bottom 10 percent of earners.
The research found that not only was there earning discrepancy, but a higher percentage of black men and women were unemployed than white. The report focuses on segments of the market that are the worst affected by labour market inequalities especially unpaid and domestic work, precarious formal work and the unemployed.
The authors comment that existing government policies have failed to reduce inequality established during apartheid because macroeconomic policies have entrenched rather than reduced the dominance of a handful of conglomerates based in finance, extractives and energy.
“Addressing the crisis of inequality in South Africa therefore needs to go much further than the labour market reforms, skills development policies and micro support for the informal sector that have been advocated by mainstream economists.
“Long-term, socially sustainable distributions of income would require radical transformation of the economy towards more labour intensive, linked to sectors that serve the needs of the population – for example via a developmental welfare state across health, education and other social needs – rather than the imperatives of profit and capital expatriation.”
They call for policies to reduce labour market inequality – such as a living wage, a maximum income cap no higher than 10% of the income of the lowest paid worker in firm, social protection for all and making workplaces safe for women.
* The term womxn is used in the report as an alternative spelling to women to avoid suggestion of sexism.