Social scientists’ views on Covid-19 in Southern Africa (11)

Brandon Gregory, Covid-19 lockdown measures in Paarl mall (South Africa), April 2020, CC BY-SA,

Poverty and pandemic in South Africa

Economists have begun to evaluate the economic consequences of Covid-19 already present in South Africa, and to analyse those that will be most likely in the near future.

Although it is still early, in the midst of the crisis, to assess how the situation will actually evolve, some fear that “the lockdown could lead to a 50% increase in the national rate of extreme poverty (seven percentage points). This means that an additional four million South Africans will be unable to afford enough food.” Worst-case scenario: “A reduction of three-quarters of all informal income due to the lockdown would, on its own, increase extreme poverty, defined as an income of less than about R 7 000 per person per year, from around 14% of the population to around 21%”. People earning low incomes (sometimes on a daily basis), small entrepreneurs, informal sector workers will undoubtedly suffer the most from the current context.

For sure, the South African state has access to a social grant infrastructure that is quite unique in sub-Saharan Africa. Will it be enough and well-targeted to reach most of the poorest households? Could the Child support grant (GSG) “offer the vehicle for reaching the poor and enhancing their income at a time when such vehicles are in short supply”?

Two recent articles discuss these issues of major concern:

­­— The first one is by Servaas van der Berg, an economist at Stellenbosch University.

— ­The second one is a collective paper by an international group of researchers specialized in poverty and inequality studies (Ihsaan Bassier, Joshua Budlender, Murray Leibbrandt, Rocco Zizzamia, and Vimal Ranchhod)