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by Robin Richards and Alessandra Bianca (2007)



1. Introduction
1.1. National context of the research
1.2. Structure of the paper
2. Research methodology
2.1. Research instruments
2.2. Pre-field preparation
2.3. Arranging access to the selected communities
2.4. Training fieldworkers to collect the data
2.5. Fieldwork undertaken
3. Provincial Indicators of development
4. Key Findings
5. General discussion on the findings
6. Conclusion


While South Africa's macro-economic policies are shifting the country onto a higher growth path in GDP, the challenge remains to improve the lives of people who have not experienced the benefits of the economic boom in recent years.

This study was designed to give a voice to ordinary South Africans living in impoverished areas to identify their most important community needs and how these should be addressed.

Information collected through the study reveals that while all South Africans have attained civil rights, many have not secured economic and social rights. Access to employment and a decent education is a central concern for those living in the poorest areas. Access to basic and community services to improve the quality of life remains a problem for many.


This assessment was 'nested' in a broader Civil Society Advocacy Programme [1] supported by the European Union Delegation in South Africa [2] aimed at increasing the level of involvement of communities in decisions that affect their own development and mobilising community interventions (through meetings, community workshops, focus groups and other events) to address their needs.

More specifically, the purpose of the research reported in this paper was to collect a range of social indicators, within poor communities and settlements in South Africa with the aim of giving a voice to the people living in these areas. In particular, the study tried to identify residents' most important needs and ways to address these needs.

Secondly, it was intended to increase communities' capacity to know, claim and access their constitutional rights, including basic service delivery.

The study made use of a 'rights-based' approach to define poverty, where even if all South Africans have political and civil rights (first generation rights), access to second-generation rights (social, economic and cultural rights) is not even.

The poor are not able to realise their rights, very often because of a lack of strong community structures with a sufficiently loud voice to be heard by the policy makers. Institutional and accountability weaknesses, particularly at the level of local government, leading to top-down planning and inadequate service delivery are also problems that affect the poor.

This project had to be completed in eight weeks, from mid October to mid December 2006 [3]. The research was conducted in a selected sample of communities in three provinces: KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.

More specifically, the project provided information on the current socio-economic situation in the targeted communities so as to develop a baseline from which to start monitoring the level of future interventions.

National context of the research

After more than ten years of democracy in South Africa, there have been many successes recorded towards political stability and economic prosperity, not least of which was the adoption of the Constitution in 1996, which is recognised as one of the world's most progressive. This is aimed at addressing social inequalities, brought about by colonialism and apartheid, and protecting the rights of all citizens. Møller (2007) cites other main achievements since 1994, such as the holding of two successive sets of elections (national and local government), in the decade that followed, which have been peaceful, free and fair. The role of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in setting South Africans on a path of reconciliation and forgiveness, after four decades of apartheid, has also been an important recent achievement.

Furthermore, the South African story is not fully told without noting the country's macro economic successes post 1994. In the mid to late eighties, when the country faced the onset of sanctions, the political and economic forecast was gloomy and dire. By 1989, more than 4000 people had been killed and more than 50 000 detained in the mass uprisings against apartheid (Sparks, 1994). South Africa's foreign debt burden rose to 26.8% by the end of 1984, the value of the Rand plummeted to $0.35 in 1985 and the economy stagnated (Innes, 1986).

More than 20 years later, in 2007, the South African Budget Review paints a much more positive macro-economic picture. South Africa recorded its first budget surplus (R5bn) post 1994 and GDP growth forecasts have been revised upwards to 5.1% over the next three years (Financial Mail, February 2007). With these economic achievements in mind, the South African government is well positioned to focus on delivering services to the poor and implementing policies to pull more people out of poverty.

Ironically speaking, despite the macro-economic successes, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened. In fact, the official unemployment rate has risen to 25.6% from 20% in 1994 and half of the country's black population reportedly live below the international poverty level of US$1/day (Financial Mail 23, 2007).

There are other indicators that suggest that the challenge to improve the lives of the poor is far from over. For example, with respect to education, whilst 1.2 million children started grade one education, only 500 000 of them actually achieved matriculation. Most of these children dropped out of school at the end of grade 11. The unemployment rate for this group was around 36.3 percent (Business Report, Sunday Tribune, 29 April, 2007). Rising unemployment even for those who have matriculated or have come close to matriculation is a function of structural changes to the economy, as pointed out by a Harvard led research team appointed by National Treasury to review the South African economy and find creative ways of speeding economic growth (Financial Mail, March 29 2007).

Evidence of the need for more South Africans with higher skill levels can be found in the Home Affair's recent announcement of the availability of 34 825 quota work permits in 53 occupations where professionals are in great demand (Mercury, 26 April, 2007).

Another indicator to be considered herewith is housing. About 2 million subsidised homes have been built since 1994 and the government currently builds around 250 000 houses per year. The backlog of housing however continues to grow at 200 000 houses per year and, to make a dent in the shortfall, some 500 000 houses will have to be built every year (Financial Mail February 23, 2007). The delivery of housing is also complicated by delays in the rezoning of land to residential areas and in the provision of bulk services to new developments (Ibid). In addition, delays in the roll-out of existing RDP housing projects swell the ranks of those on the waiting list for such houses (Star March 12, 2007).

Structure of the paper

The paper firstly provides a broad description of the three provinces and makes use of Census material (2001) to highlight the development challenges facing each province. Secondly, the paper focuses on local communities within each province and summarises their most important needs as identified by residents through the study.

Summary tables of each of the provinces and communities visited are used to highlight key findings. Some of these key findings are then discussed in more detail.

The final section proposes a set of recommendations, derived from communities' prioritised needs that may help to address some of the developmental obstacles facing residents living in these areas.

Research methodology

An initial list of communities/sites to be visited through the study was provided by the CSAP programme. This list included also a cross-section of the kinds of settlements that exist in South Africa. The CSAP requested that a roughly proportional split of rural to urban areas should be selected in each of the provinces [4].

More specifically, study areas in the following types of settlement-patterns representing the South African residential landscape were selected:

  • informal areas;
  • formal areas including formal townships;
  • settlements within commercial farming and freehold areas;
  • communities in large metropolitan areas;
  • communities in smaller towns;
  • communities in tribal authority areas.

Research instruments

Data collected through this study made use of three different research instruments, designed to facilitate residents living in those areas to assess their own needs and priorities:

  • A Site Scan
  • A Structured Community Interview guide
  • A Focus Group Guide

Researchers visiting each community undertook a site scan of the area first, which aimed at recording the natural and physical environment in which communities lived. Information collected through site scans included for example the presence of social infrastructure such as schools, community halls; community access to basic infrastructure and services.

The purpose of the community interviews instead was to have an in-depth conversation with community members, using a structured interview guide. Community representatives interviewed were people identified as community leaders, in their own particular spheres of influence, including teachers and school principals; social workers or people in social services; Community Advisory Committee Members, people active in civic organisations; Community Development Workers providing a service in the area; Project managers or Officers in Community Based Organisations, Non Governmental Organisations or Faith Based Organisations, providing a service in the area.

The Community Interviews had the purpose of assessing community problems and resources as well as community leadership structures.

Finally, the Focus groups and group discussions with community members were also used to collect information on the settlements visited by researchers.

In addition to the themes described above, an additional purpose of the focus groups was to verify and explore some of the issues and responses that were raised by community members through in-depth community interviews and the site scanning technique.

Pre-field preparation

Before visiting the areas, the researchers compiled a Preliminary Situational Analysis (PSA) of each community to be visited. Data used to compile the PSA was extracted from Census 2001 and the Municipal Demarcation Board. Where possible, fieldworkers were asked to verify some of the statistics from the Census with key-informants in the communities.

Fieldworkers were also able to use statistics as discussion documents in their focus group discussions to determine whether the anecdotal evidence collected through interviews, matches the harder statistics in the census.

Arranging access to the selected communities

A Field Work Co-ordinator facilitated community access for the fieldworkers by informing key community members of the research underway and requesting permission for the collection of data in the targeted communities. In most cases, local councillors and leaders were targeted in order to gain access.

Training fieldworkers to collect the data

Some training sessions were organised for the fieldworkers to be instructed on how to use the research instruments, probe the people living in communities and interpret the collected data to be elaborated in a Provincial Report. In the end, three Provincial Reports had to make a Final Report, comprising all research instruments filled in by each one of the visited communities.

Training for the study was in fact organised in two days and was regionally based. Training for the Limpopo and the Eastern Cape field team took place in Johannesburg. Training for the KwaZulu Natal field team instead was held in Durban. A Fieldwork Protocol or Manual was developed for training purposes and give to each fieldwork team as to instruct on how to undertake data collection. Fieldworkers were briefed on the background to the study and trained on the three research instruments above mentioned.

They were also given some practical guidance on how to cope with difficulties they may have experienced in gaining access to communities; contacting key-informants and undertaking the community meetings/in-depth interviews, during the process of their site visits. At the training, the fieldwork teams were provided with background information on each of the communities to visit as well as the contact details of key informants within those. This facilitated rapid access to the sites. The training over the two day period went off successfully and was considered quite precious in the end.

Fieldwork undertaken

Data collection commenced immediately after the two-day training and lasted approximately two weeks. Data on thirty communities were collected, in the three provinces. Thus, ten communities were visited in each of the provinces.

Defining Communities and area-selection

For the purpose of this study, communities were defined as people who share a common geographic area. For practical fieldwork reasons, the size of some of the communities identified for the study necessitated that smaller sub-places were selected in order to target interviews and collect data.

More specifically, the sub-area was representative of the type of housing and living conditions in which the majority of the population in the identified area, and its surrounds, lived in [5]. For the example, the Mtunzini-Umlalazi area is estimated to cover some 2300sq km. It was then decided to select a smaller sub-place within this area, called the Obanjeni community. In contrast, Zanzibari community in Bayview-Chatsworth is a very small area defined by virtually one street and therefore it was possible to collect data for the whole area.

Provincial Indicators of development

This section provides a statistical summary of some of the basic indicators of development in the three provinces where the study was undertaken. Data from South Africa's Census 2001 is used to highlight access to basic services such as water, sanitation and electricity. In addition, the most recent data available at the time of this study, from the South Africa's 2005 Labour force survey are presented to show employment rates for the three provinces. Data from these sources provide a useful backdrop to the presentation of research findings.

Unemployment in particular was cited by all communities as being one of the most serious problems facing them. According to data from the 2005 Labour force survey, unemployment ranged between 13-15 percent in the three provinces, using the official definition. It should be noted that the 'not economically active' population includes people who have given up their job search as well the elderly; learners at school and those currently undertaking tertiary education.

Source -2005 Labour Force Survey
Eastern Cape KwaZulu-Natal Limpopo
Not economically active
Unemployed [6]
Total Percentage


Table 1: Employment by Province


Limpopo Province

The Limpopo Province lies on the border with Zimbabwe and Mozambique. This province consists of 5 District Municipalities and 23 Local Municipalities. The geographical area of the province is 122 839 square kilometres, spanning five districts: Capricorne, Mopani, Greater Sekhukune; Vhembe, Waterburg, (Municipal Demarcation Board).

The population estimate is 5 449 295 (South African Institute of Race Relations, 2007). Some 17% of residents have access to a full flush toilet. Some 57% rely on pit latrines and for 22% of residents, there is no sanitation service whatsoever. With respect to the water supply, the water-scarce nature of the province is echoed in the poor supply of water to residents. Some eight percent of residents have access to water via a stream or dam; 19% have access via a stand pipe not in residents' own yard; 16 percent have access to water in their own yard.

With respect to energy available for cooking, 57% of residents rely on wood as a fuel source, 26 %on electricity and 12% on paraffin.

The average annual household income in 2005 was R46 781 and the number of people living on less than $1/day in 2006 was 760 117 (SAIRR-South African Institute of Race Relations,2007).

KwaZulu-Natal Province

KwaZulu-Natal is situated on the Eastern seaboard of South Africa, adjacent to the Eastern Cape Province. It consists of 10 District Municipalities and 50 Local Municipalities. The District Municipalities are the following: Zululand; Uthungulu; iLembe; UMgungundlovu; Uthukela; Amajuba; Umzinyathi; Umkhanvakudi; Sisonke and Ugu. The total population of the province is 9,426, 017 (Municipal Demarcation Board). The province covers 92 303kmsq (South African Institute of Race Relations, 2007).

Some 45% of the population in KwaZulu-Natal have access to flush toilets and the second highest percentage use a pit latrine or ventilated toilet. Some 28 percent of residents in 2001 had access to water via piping into their yard or dwelling. Some residents (eight percent), particularly those in the outlying and rural areas, rely on streams and dams for a supply of water. Energy used for cooking includes electricity (55%), wood (21%) and paraffin (19%) as being the main sources. The average household income is R78 205, with 1 165 536 people living on less than $1/day in 2006 (South African Institute of Race Relations, 2007).

The Eastern Cape Province

The Eastern Cape consists of six District Municipalities and 38 Local Municipalities. According to the Municipal Demaration Board, its total population is 6,436.763, covering six District Municipalities that are the following: Cacadu; Amatole; Chris Hani; Ukhahlamba; O.R Tambo; Alfred Nzo. The size of the province is 169 952 kmsq. (SAIRR, 2007).

Eastern Cape is one of the worst-off provinces with respect to access to basic services, with 39% of the population having access to flush toilets, 27% reporting no sanitation services and 19% having access to ventilated pit latrines. Main sources of energy for cooking included: electricity (34%) wood (30%) and paraffin (30%). Some 16% of residents have no access to piped water, whilst 30% obtain their water supply from a regional source such as local schools. Only 11 percent respectively can access piped water either from their dwellings or household yards.

The average annual household income in 2005 was R54 068, with some 874 707 people living on less than $1/per day.

Key Findings

Key findings focus on the following indicators of material living conditions: housing; food security and nutrition; unemployment; sources of income; grants; health; education, access to basic services, and other social problems including youth crime; alcoholism; teenage pregnancy. The Summary Tables for each province below, highlight the key community needs; priorities and community-suggested interventions to improve the quality of life in these areas:

Cornfields/ Estcourt (Rural area) Clean water; proper houses; employment opportunities; skills development; Road rehabilitation Creation of employment opportunities
Development of skills in the area
Improve the roads
Ingogo/ Newcastle (Rural area) Jobs; housing; clinic; land; water Reduce poverty and unemployment
Livestock not to be impounded
Ixopo (Rural area) Jobs; youth education & training; housing; roads; business start-up support Establish a community Advice Centre where several of the community priorities could be addressed
Kokstad/Bhongweni (Rural area) Address teenage pregnancy and prostitution; child substance abuse; women abuse; HIV/AIDS Re-open Justice Centre in Kokstad.
Police take a long time to attend to security issues
Peaceful environment, building peace and dignity
Education and skills
Mtunzini (Mzimela Tribal Authority) (Rural area) Clinics; jobs; roads Community projects. These will create social capital in the community as well as access to job opportunities
Co-operative police who listen to community needs and also prioritise their security
Street lighting for safer improvement of current electricity supply
Effective and speedy access to ambulance services and grants
Albert Park/ Point Road, DurbanUrban, Inner City Upgraded, safe, reasonably priced housing
Jobs; accredited and effective education and training
Meaningful participation of youth in implementing state programmes for youth
Address police corruption in Broad Street Police Station
Kwa Nyuswa/ Valley of 1000 Hills area (Peri-urban area) Job opportunities Education and training: FET colleges; Improve quality of education at schools Roads; water; streetlights; bus shelters Library and sports groundsClinics and improved staffing in them; Community police stationRDP houses with four-rooms. All of the listed priorities need urgent intervention
Kwa Mashu K Section (Urban Area -Township) Job opportunities Education and training: FET colleges; Improve quality of education at schools Roads; water; streetlights; bus shelters Library and sports groundsClinics and improved staffing in them; Community police stationRDP houses with four-rooms.
Clinic (top priority for both focus groups)
Job opportunities
Library or a youth centre
Provide an interim mobile health service or a satellite health centre while the clinic is builtJob opportunities: government projects should optimise equitable benefit by giving opportunities to at least one member per household
Improved policing: the response rate for SAPS (South Africa Police Service) should be improved to effectively curb crime
Library or a youth centre to develop youth and lead them away from destructive activities
Mpophomeni (Urban area) Jobs/ economic development
Education and training
Sports and recreation facilities for the youth; security; roads
The need for taverns to close at 21h00 (9pm) so that the abuse of drugs and alcohol could be prevented to curb crime
Provide a tertiary institution at Mpophomeni so that youth do not drop out of school after grade 12
The need for industrial investment in Mpophomeni so that unemployment could be addressed
Zanzibari/Chatsworth (Urban area) Housing
Education, skills, empowerment
Improved quality and quantity of houses
Provide skills development programmes to empower especially the youth; access to bursaries and finances
To be recognised as an 'employable' community; affirmative action.
Improved relations with police
Ga-Makgoba (Rural area) Provision of water to cultivate crops and supply basic needs
Provision of good roads to ensure better access
Improve telecommunications
Development of irrigation schemes using the nearby river to supply water to crops
Upgrading roads Installation of phone-lines to enable young people to access internet services for study and job hunting purposes
Maila Maptisane (Rural area) Supply of drinkable water
Reduce teenage pregnancy
Reduce crime and drug-taking
Improve supply of water
Build a health centre close to three residential areas. The Health Centre would dispense condoms and reduce teenage pregnancy Create employment opportunities
Masemelo (Rural area) Water Provision
Improve access to health care
Provide amenities for meetings and sports and recreation
Provide water standpipes with sufficient water pressure to service all areas
Provide local hospital
Build a multi-purpose centre
Moretsele (Rural area) Improve water supply Improve transport services
Improve Health Services
Community centre for functions
Repair the boreholes which are currently not functioning and ensure that the pipes connected to the standpipes are not leaking
Improve roads so that public transport can be accessed by residents
Tshenzhelani (Rural area) Address high unemployment
Provide alternative energy sources
Improve water provision
Improve access to tertiary education; access to employment advertisements; more employment opportunities needed for young people
Provide electricity in the area. People are still reliant on candles and paraffin stoves
Increase the number of taps in the area
Sigonde (Rural area) Provide alternative energy source
Improve Health Services
Improve Schools
Provide electricity in area, people are still reliant on candles and paraffin stoves
Provide a clinic in the area
Increase the number of classrooms in the existing primary school
Winterveld (Rural area) Improve access to water and sanitation services
Improve health services
Improve roads
Reduce crime
Install toilet facilities in Mahloakoena and improve the quality of Ventilated Pit latrines in Makgemeng; ensure a more reliable water supply in this areaIncrease the number of doctors at the hospital
Improve employment opportunities; provide tertiary training opportunities for the youth and finish building the FET college in the area
Marapong (Urban area) Improve access to services
Improve access to schools
Reduce crime
Provide support for children with HIV infected parents
Upgrade roads
Provide schools Provide street lighting
Provide sports and recreational facilities
Provide an orphanage home to care for children without parents
Mookgopong (Urban area) Provide tertiary training opportunities
Improve Health Services
Reduce alcohol consumption
Provide better access to tertiary training institutionsImprove the quality of services at the clinic and the hospital, disseminate information on the days/times the mobile clinic can visit the area to improve access
Reduce the number of taverns in the area to prevent liquor being sold to under-age people
Vaalwater (Urban area) Address high unemployment
Address high rate of teenage pregnancy
Improve basic service provision
Improve awareness of rights
Improve health care access
Expand public works programmes and opportunities
Invest in education, vocational training and create employment opportunities for young people
Education and awareness raising programmes on accessing free basic services and RDP houses. Need civic organisation to promote rights awareness in the area
Cofimvaba (Rural area) Improved governance
Promote tourism
Reduce Crime
Reduce unemployment
Re-election and improved accountability of leadership structures
Establish business centres and/or markets Focus employment creation strategies on women and youth in order to reduce crime
Daliwe (Rural area) Reduce poverty
Improve food security
Reduce unemployment
Reduce crime
Land redistribution and agricultural development
Encourage companies to locate their factories in the area in order to decrease unemployment and crime
Finalise land distribution cases and provide agricultural assistance and training
Dorrington/Kwa-Dubu, Fort Beaufort (Rural area) Poverty alleviation
Reducing unemployment
Reducing /eliminating substance abuse
Improving care and assistance to abused, neglected and abandoned children
Improved infrastructure
Improve policing in the area
Maintenance of current infrastructure, particularly roads
Improve communication between the community and the police, improve response time of police units to community calls
Employment creation projects
More social workers, non-governmental organisations and health workers are required
Peddie (Rural area) Provision and improvement of infrastructure
Provision and improvement of basic services
Establishment of commercially successful agricultural projects and food gardens
Reduce crimeImprove relationships with local government
Improve the condition of existing roads
Provide tap water to each house in the community
Provide agricultural skills training
Provide agricultural equipment
Provision of recreational facilities and sports fields to occupy the youth and contribute to reducing crime
Improve communication between the local/municipal government and the community
Valencia Community, Addo, Sundays River (Rural area) Reduce unemployment
Reduce crime
Improve health services
Provide employment opportunities to solve socio-economic problems and reduce crimeBuild a clinic, appoint a doctor and make an ambulance service available in the area
Barkley East (Urban area) Improving health services
Provision of sanitation
Promotion of food security
Reducing crime
Provide housing
Alleviate unemployment
Improve public transport
Construct a clinic in Ward 15
Appoint a full time multilingual medical doctor
Installation of flush toilets
Assistance from the Department of Agriculture with the provision of seed and the establishment of a food garden and small-scale farming operations
Provide sports and recreational facilities for the youth
Improve the process of RDP housing allocation as well as the information and communication systems pertaining to the process
Establishment of employment creation projects
Establishing a bus service in the area
Harry Gwala Park, Matatiele (Urban area) Reducing unemployment
Improve health services
Poverty alleviation
Employment creation to solve the socio-economic problems experienced by the community
The focus on additional and improved health services should be on the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS
Quigney (Urban area) Alleviating poverty and food insecurity Designing interventions to address the needs of many beggars and homeless people in the area
Promote tourism
Maintain current infrastructure
Motherwell (Urban area) Improve governance
Reduce unemployment
Improve health services
Improve education
Improve communication with and accountability of local and provincial government structures
Focus on skills development programmes for the youth an adult-education for the older members of the community to increase the employability of community members
Build more clinics and schools
Soweto on SeaUrban, Informal Area Reduce unemployment
Reduce crime
Improve health services
The provision of employment opportunities is viewed as a solution to solve socio-economic problems, particularly crime
Build a clinic, appoint a doctor and make an ambulance service available in the area


Figure 1: Provincial self-assessed community needs and proposed interventions

General discussion on the findings

Respondents' listed community priorities are key indicators of community needs. The most commonly listed community priorities across all provinces were: employment creation; access to basic services and adequate housing; access to educational opportunities and access to health care, discussed in detail in the following section.

Another consideration to be made is that women and children are often the most vulnerable groups in society with respect to the impact of poverty. Therefore, they were herewith targeted for investigation as a central cross-cutting theme in themselves.


Access to adequate housing is an important indicator of living standards and satisfaction with life, as previous research has shown [Møller (2001); Richards, 2006 and 2007). The types of housing varied across all visited communities. The most common form of housing in both urban and rural areas were RDP -supplied houses [7]. In some of the rural areas, traditional huts built using mud-bricks and locally available materials were also common.

Poor housing quality

The bulk of the opinions concerning the quality of housing focused on RDP houses. Nevertheless, two communities in KwaZulu Natal commented on the general poor quality of traditional housing also as well as the degradation of inner-city housing. RDP houses specifically appear to be poorly regarded, with complaints focused on the cheap quality of the materials used, the inability of housing to withstand inclement or extreme weather conditions and the small size of the houses. Complaints about the quality of the housing concerned also reports of "thin walls", made of one line of bricks; the houses comprising one-to-two rooms only, leading to overcrowding; housing foundations not being adequately developed; little cement being used on the walls and insecure roves that vibrate on windy days.

Quantity of housing

Communities in all three provinces, and across both urban and rural areas, complained about the general lack of housing in their areas as well as the lack of space to contain their existing households. Reports of large numbers of people sharing a confined space (e.g. a family of five living in a single room) recurred across almost all sites. In Limpopo, there was evidence of households extending their existing dwellings (either RDP houses or traditional huts) by adding on additional rooms or by building shacks on their stands. In the Eastern Cape, there were reports that RDP houses were too small too. These houses usually comprised one room and a bathroom and, with households often comprising eight people, conditions of overcrowding were clearly reported.

The housing allocation process

In both the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, participants in the study reported unfair practices in the housing allocation process, complaining about corruption, nepotism and, in the Eastern Cape particularly, about preference being granted to people who moved into their area from other areas. It is also possible that some of the dissatisfaction expressed about the housing allocation process may emanate from inadequate communication and information about the housing allocation process. Other research has shown that people on waiting lists for RDP homes do perceive corruption as a problem slowing the allocation process. (Richards et al, 2006).

Unemployment, food scarcity and poor education

The study highlighted the linkage between unemployment, inadequate education and food insecurity. Food security was expressed as a serious issue in almost all of the communities profiled. Most respondents identified food insecurity as being the result of unemployment and a lack of land and resources available to households to make a living and grow their own crops. Interestingly, respondents' perceptions of unemployment in their own areas suggested that this was a more serious problem than indicated by census figures. For example in the Eastern Cape, respondents reported that in many of their communities, unemployment was as high as 70-90 percent.

In most cases, especially in rural areas, there were very few formal employment opportunities. The effects of a lack of formal income were felt most severely by women and children of course. Women resorted to begging and doing 'piecework' (such as washing clothes or doing housework for neighbours). Reliance on social capital resources was sometimes the last resort. Friends, relatives and neighbours sometimes shared food with the families which did not have any. In some communities, reliance on social capital as a means of survival was easier than in others. The Zanzibari community in Chatsworth, Durban, for example, is a particularly close-knit community with a strong civic culture. Sharing and caring for other community members was here the underlying ethic, as highlighted in the following statement made by a community member:

"If we know that so and so has no food, we will share our maize meal and spinach, and we as a community will take responsibility not to let anyone go to bed hungry"

In other urban areas instead, there was no such spirit of sharing and caring. For example in the densely settled inner city residential area of Albert Park in Durban, respondents reported that one of the main ways in which people earn a living is through crime, including drug peddling. This activity was reportedly prevalent among illegal foreigners who, being unable to obtain work-permits, are forced into such illegal activities.

Children were sometimes forced to earn a living also for their families, with the consequence that they had to give up school or did not have the time and energy to focus on their studies. Activities included seasonal farm work. Some respondents also reported that young girls become pregnant in order to access the Child Support Grant, although this was not widely reported [8]. Others reported that young girls are forced into prostitution in order to earn a living, putting them at higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. The selling of harvested wood in rural areas has been reported as another means of earning a living, as was the selling of Mopani worms (Limpopo).

Reliance on government grants as well as food parcels (from the Department of Social Development) was also frequently cited as a main means of survival for people living in both rural and urban areas. Old age pensions, Child Support Grants, Foster Care Grants and Disability Grants were listed as the types of grants people accessed [9].

In the Eastern Cape, respondents noted that a small number of people who were employed tend to work as domestic workers and gardeners. A number of communities noted that public works programmes were also a key source of income.

Some communities, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, indicated that, with the proper level of support, they would be able to sustain themselves through subsistence agriculture.

Access to adequate education
Specifically access to adequate education was another key issue which respondents from all areas identified as an impediment to find jobs and lift them from poverty. In general, the quality of education varied widely both between and within communities. However, there was a general perception that schools in urban and peri-urban areas were of a better quality. Many communities noted improvements in the general levels of literacy and education.

For young people attending school, particularly in rural areas, access to schools was cited as a problem. In rural areas, some schools were as far away as 10km or more. With no public transport available, learners are often forced to walk to school. Accessing government-subsidised schools outside their own residential areas is also expensive, if public transport is available. For example in Ixopo, KwaZulu Natal, children using the Mariathal Primary school spend up to R220,00 per month on transport costs. In Limpopo's Vaalwater and Masemola communities, overcrowding was cited as a problem affecting the quality of the tuition.

With respect to educational differences between younger and older community members, research findings suggest a difference between older community members who are semi-literate or illiterate, and the younger generation who often have a matric qualification. In some areas such as Mpophomeni and Kokstad in KwaZulu Natal, residents have access to Adult Basic Education classes which they are able to attend regularly. Some community members expressed the need for practically-oriented education including life skills training and training for work-related skills such as computer literacy, sewing or even tour-guide operators. Few communities visited were fortunate enough to have access to community centres, housing a library with training facilities where computer skills can be taught and learnt. Young people expressed the need for greater internet connectivity, particularly those living in rural areas. For example some respondents from Limpopo felt that having greater internet connectivity would put them in touch with information on jobs, career guidance and training opportunities.

In Limpopo, young people expressed the need for more FET colleges, where career-related skills could be obtained [10]. Having a matric qualification was no longer viewed as a passport to obtain employment, especially in rural areas where there was a shortage of formal employment opportunities.

Other problems mentioned with respect to schooling were the following. School fees are generally thought to be burdensome, and in some instances are perceived as discriminatory. However, there are exceptions - respondents in Limpopo were generally happy with the level of school fees.

The quality of schooling was also a general concern. A number of communities noted that schools in their communities are understaffed or staffed with uncommitted and unqualified teachers.

The lack of employment opportunities for young people means that they are not motivated to complete their education.

Access to basic infrastructure and services

As expected, it has been noted that urban communities have access to better and more basic services than rural areas, and formal settlements have access to most basic services, whilst informal settlements do not.


Roads are an important issue for most communities in rural areas, while in urban areas the decaying service infrastructure is a cause for concern.

Generally speaking, rural roads are in a poor condition everywhere (the majority of roads are not tarred and are badly potholed) and public transport is limited (in some cases taxis have stopped operating because of the poor road conditions). In most rural communities, roads require considerable repair and maintenance and, in many cases, they are in such a poor state that emergency vehicles, waste removal services and taxis cannot access these areas.


In the urban and formal settlement areas, all households had access to electricity while informal settlements did not. In the Eastern Cape and Limpopo however, many communities were still using paraffin or wood for cooking since it was cheaper than cooking with electricity.


Households in formal areas generally had access to flush toilets while those in rural areas and informal settlements still commonly used the bucket system or pit latrines. The lack of proper sanitation facilities was cited as the reason why many people suffered from diarrhoea caused by river water contamination, in some parts of Winterveld for example.


Almost all areas have access to piped water, although in informal settlements and rural areas the access is often via a communal pipe. Two of the areas in Limpopo, however, still reported using water from nearby perennial rivers.

Recreational amenities

All the profiled communities expressed the need for more amenities, in particular for well maintained sport fields and libraries. There was considerable emphasis on the need to provide constructive activities for the youth. Respondents believed that this would lead to a reduction in substance abuse and crime.

Health Issues

There are three main aspects that communities highlighted with respect to health:
· The public health system
· Use of traditional healers

Generally speaking, there is a high level of awareness on HIV/AIDS. However, this does not translate into high levels of knowledge about the nature of the disease or a people's ability to talk about the impact of the disease. One does not have to forget that there still is a considerable level of stigma attached to this disease. For example in the Tshenzehelani area, in Limpopo, women identified as HIV- positive were perceived as prostitutes. Popular myths about HIV/AIDS abound. In particular, community members draw links between HIV/AIDS and "foreigners", and also identify witchcraft as a possible source of the disease (for example in the Masemola area in Limpopo). There was also a very poor level of awareness about the availability of the Anti Retroviral Treatment (ART) programme.

Public Health Facilities
Communities noted that, in general, they have relatively high levels of access to the public health system. In some cases, communities are served by mobile clinics. However despite this, there is a general dissatisfaction with the levels of service provided by the public health system. Respondents identified long queues, poor level of staff-patient interaction, the lack of qualified staff; and the lack of proper equipment and medication as key problems.

Traditional Healers
Traditional healers are widely utilised by communities in addition to public health services. In Limpopo, in particular, there is a widespread perception that traditional healers can cure most ailments, including HIV/AIDS.


Cross-cutting issues

In all of the communities visited, women and young people were most affected by the impact of poverty, unemployment and a lack of access to amenities and basic services. The effect of unemployment on young people and women has herewith already been addressed. For young people of school-going age, unemployment in their families forces them out of school to search for work and to bring an income into their households through menial jobs or other informal sector activities. The lack of employment and adequate educational opportunities is blamed by community members as being some of the main causes of youth crime in several areas visited. In rural areas, it was also reported that young people appear not to play a specific role in the community or leadership structures, suggesting further alienation from local institutions in their residential areas, thus pushing them towards crime and delinquent behaviour, in the absence of opportunities for self-development and community social cohesion. The findings suggesting the causes of youth anomie (defined as deviant or unregulated behaviour) support the research conducted by Huschka and Mau (2005) on ethnic differences in anomie in the South African population. The researchers analysed data from the South African General Household Survey of 2002 and concluded that anomie is the product not just of socio-economic inequality, but also of other factors, including social reconciliation between the ethnic groups (former oppressors and formerly oppressed), as well as social integration of those excluded from all sphere's of community life.

With respect to women, the impact of poverty and the lack of education is felt in various ways. Traditional values, including patriarchy, makes women quite vulnerable to domestic violence and expose them to risk of HIV infection. Women were reported to be sometimes fearful of protecting themselves from their partners against HIV infection. Women are often the sole income earners in their households and are expected to beg for food when there is scarcity of it or to undertake 'piecework' (such as domestic/cleaning work) in order to feed their families.


An assessment of community priorities expressed by community members themselves, from all the settlements visited, highlighted short-term interventions that people thought necessary almost in all provinces in order to improve their quality of life. In fact, the three provinces have similar profiles, where the rate of unemployment is above the national one and infrastructure is relatively poorly developed.

Thus, priorities in relation to jobs and improved services and infrastructure were duly noted in all three provinces. Access to health care and housing are a problem in most rural areas of the country and these were also identified as priorities in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. Reducing and preventing crime emerged as a provincial priority in both Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, although it was referred to in some urban communities in KwaZulu-Natal. Many of the other priorities, such as youth development, land redistribution and the provision of better education and training were mentioned in a number of communities across the provinces, although they may not emerge as common provincial priorities.

Looking more in detail to the findings common to all provinces, one can note the need for: employment creation and support for entrepreneurs to reduce high unemployment rates; the provision of basic services including flush toilets and piped water into dwellings; addressing staff shortages in public health institutions; improving the quality and quantity of housing; improving the status of roads (particularly in rural and informal settlement areas) and the public transport system; creating opportunities for more sustainable livelihoods through land redistribution and improving agricultural skills of new and emerging farmers living in rural areas.

Longer term interventions were also presented and discussed at a report-back workshop, arranged by the CSAP programme at the end of the study. Researchers concluded that a multi-dimensional approach was and is nowadays still required to address the needs of the poor in the visited areas. This would entail amongst other interventions, improved communication and cooperation between the various tiers of government (national, provincial and local government) as well as with civil society organisations at grass-roots level and local private sector corporations too. This would certainly reduce the duplication of services as well as foster the delivery of resources that are quite limited at the moment. This was seen to be very important with respect to the distribution of food parcels to the poor in particular and other services, including home-based care for the sick and elderly, for example.

One of the key findings from the research was to highlight the fact that women and young people are two vulnerable groups most severely affected by poverty that need to be directly targeted by development programmes. Inventions can be at the most basic level, such as the provision of piped water to communities, so that women can spend their productive time in self-development or earning an income, for example. At a slightly higher level of intervention, there is a need for more human rights education, focusing on the rights of women. This intervention would assist in dealing with the scourge of violence against women and in supporting them in their fight against HIV infection.

To deal with youth anomie, it is recommended that a variety of longer term inventions would be put in place, including the provision of more and better equipped schools, career guidance facilities and more opportunities for recreation and pro-social activities aimed at self-development and social integration. Finally, with respect to improving health, a great need was expressed for clinics and hospitals to be located closer to residential areas in order for the poor to have better access to these basic facilities.

This study was finally presented to the European Commission's Delegation to Pretoria for future advocacy before the South African government and other relevant stakeholders such as NGOs, CBOs and municipal institutions. It is in the hope of both the authors of this brief Article to see further steps concretely undertaken towards having the voices of the most disadvantaged people in the above areas duly listed to and a real improvement in every day life enjoyed by the same.

[1] The project was financed by the European Union and implemented by an Italian consulting company called ARS Progetti (Ambiente, Risorse e Sviluppo) with the support of CASE (Community Agency for Social Enquiry) a South African based research organization.
[2]The CSAP programme is a joint programme of the Commission for Gender Equality, the Office of the Public Protector and the South African Human Rights Commission and the European Union. The objective of the programme is to facilitate the interaction between those institutions, set out in the South African Constitution, to protect and support democracy and communities who are attempting to access their rights. The programme aims to contribute towards more effective governance, a reduction in poverty and improved living conditions for targeted communities.
[3] Part of the broader programme is outlined in the Terms of Reference (TOR- R2.6): Active Advocacy in Communities in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. European Union Delegation, 2006
[4] In the more urbanised provinces, the selection of 50% rural versus 50% urban area split was the target. In Limpopo, where the population is more rural, a 40/60 split between urban and rural areas was the target
[5] Enumerator Areas (EA's) were initially randomly selected according to housing type and rural versus urban context as described above. Enumerator Areas are the smallest geographical Unit usually allocated to a single interviewer in the South African Census. EA's comprise between 100 and 250 visiting points
[6] Figure is based on Statistics South Africa's official definition of unemployment. The unemployed are those economically active people who: (a) did not work during the seven days prior to the interview, (b) wanted to work and are available to start work within two weeks, and (c) have taken active steps to look for work or to start some form of self-employment in the four weeks prior to the interview. The expanded definition of unemployment excludes criterion (c). The expanded definition therefore includes persons who said they were unemployed but had not taken active steps to find work in the four weeks prior to the interview (i.e. discouraged work-seekers).
[7] RDP houses are fully subsidised government houses which low income South Africans are able to qualify for. This housing initiative had its roots in the ANC's 1994 election manifesto for South Africa's development, especially for those black South Africans disadvantaged under apartheid, and was known as the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP).
[8] Makiwane and Udjo (2006) in their analysis of the data from the 1995 and 1998 October household Surveys; the South African Demographic and Health Survey and the 2001 Census find no association between teenage fertility and the Child support Grant.
[9] An estimated 11 million South Africans, nearly a quarter of the overall population draw government grants. This compares to 2,6m who accessed grants 13 years ago (Financial Mail 23, 2007)
[10] FET (Further Education and Training) colleges aim to work closely with industries to provide customised education and qualified graduates who are able to assume positions in industries where skills are in short supply. These colleges are expected to play an important role in the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for SA (Asgisa) and are seen as a key to achieving the human resource development skills priorities outlined in Asgisa. Business Times, May 13, 2007.


List of Abbreviations

AIDS Acquired Immune Deficiency syndrome
CASE Community Agency for Social Enquiry
CBO Community Based Organisation
FET Further Education Training
HIV Human Immunodeficiency Virus
KZN Kwa Zulu Natal
NGO Non Governmental Organisation
RDP Reconstruction and Development Programme
SAPS South African Police Services


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Authors' profile and contact details

Robin Richards is a Senior Researcher at the Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE), a non profit research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Mr Richards is experienced in conducting surveys and interviews and co-ordinating research, specifically on quality of life issues and subjects related to civil society development.
Email address:

Alessandra Bianca, during the writing of the article, worked at ARS Progetti, Italy, as EU Framework Contracts Coordinator and Business Development Manager for South Africa. Ms Bianca is now an Independent Consultant with in-depth knowledge of EU Programmes and Policies for developing countries and experience in regional development programmes, both as Project Manager and as individual expert in missions implementation. Her fields of expertise include: democracy (human rights & gender relations), civil society development, facilitation of workshops and seminars. She has a background in counselling and networking skills developed in a NGOs and CBOs context.
Email address:


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