When Poverty Alleviation Perpetuates Inequality. Struggles of the Poor in Johannesburg Post-1994

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 4:18 PM
Room: 501
Distributed Paper
Prishani NAIDOO , Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Although the institutions of apartheid began to be dismantled in 1994, South Africa still bear the scars of inequality and poverty it etched so deeply along the fissures of race, class and gender. Although the African National Congress (ANC) government has committed itself to eradicating poverty and ensuring “a better life for all”, it has also embraced an approach to macro-economic policy largely neoliberal in character that has resulted in the enforcement of the duty to pay for basic services (water and electricity), in particular amongst the poor. Between 1999 and 2006 in Johannesburg residents in several of its townships (including Soweto, Alexandra and Orange Farm) came together in protests and formed social movements to demand that the municipality put an end to its experimentation with different forms of punishment and prevention of non-payment for the consumption of water and electricity (from cut-offs to prepaid meters). In these struggles, residents identified largely as poor people and demanded that the municipality acknowledge their inability to pay due to being unemployed or indigent by other means. Growing from illegal reconnections and mass marches and pickets, to include legal interventions and a constitutional court case, these struggles forced the municipality into its own series of policy formulation processes in response. This paper will explore the culmination of these processes in the City of Johannesburg’s most recent indigent management policy, which, it will show, puts forward a “pro-poor approach” that brings together a targeted model of partly decommodified access to services for those identified as “the poor”, that are nevertheless delivered within a system that is run along market principles overall. It will argue that the nature of this differentiated system perpetuates inequality even though it might address poverty by encouraging a particular form of life for those identified as “the poor”.