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Kenyon College

Publication Date

Spring 2012

Program Name

South Africa: Social and Political Transformation


In a South Africa where many still live in poverty, the government has chosen an extensive system of social grants as one of the primary methods by which it attempts to reduce this poverty. Research has generated substantial quantitative evidence that the system is successful, but there has been little analysis of public opinion around this costly policy, its effectiveness, and the need for its reform. This study explores discourses around the grants, both within government and among everyday people, in order to gain insight into such opinions. This insight is important in a South Africa that is now democratic, but still struggling. First, recent speeches and statements by relevant public officials were analyzed to reveal how the government understands and communicates the purpose and importance of the grants. Personal interviews with working-class South Africans of various age and racial groups were then conducted to learn how the public feels about the prioritization of the grant system as antipoverty policy, the appropriateness and effectiveness of this system, the need for and nature of reform, and the presentation of the system by government. Little variation appeared among the responses of interview subjects, suggesting that opinions around the grant may be dependent on class rather than race or age. Most respondents approved of grants for those unable to work but not for the young and able-bodied, viewed grants as insufficient considering the high cost of living but prioritized higher government spending on other types of social services, and were highly concerned about the presence of fraud within the grant system and its potential to create dependency. Government messages about the grants often aligned with public opinion, expressing wariness of dependency leading to a future prioritization of job creation and growth over social service provision for poverty relief. Both discourses contradict research on the subject, which suggests that grants are the most effective form of spending for poverty alleviation, do not create dependency, and should be extended to more South Africans.


Community-Based Research | Demography, Population, and Ecology | Family, Life Course, and Society | Inequality and Stratification | Politics and Social Change | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Social Welfare


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