Working Paper

Equity in the Age of Informality: Labour Markets and Redistributive Politics in South Africa

Published on 5 June 2002

In established democracies, the extension of the franchise to all prompted significant reductions in inequality as working people and the poor used their ballot to elect coalitions which implemented programmes to reduce social inequality. The current wave of democratisation in the South has not, however, triggered a sustained assault on inequality -on the contrary, democracy and inequality seem to coexist comfortably.

This paper analyses this problem in post-apartheid South Africa. It notes that the limits and possibilities of democratic redistributive politics are framed by an identity-based coalition in which the demands of black professional and business classes for greater racial equity compete with those of a coalition of trade unions and other civil society organisations who champion the poor. While poverty is not ignored, the preoccupations of the more affluent black groups tend to take precedence. It is argued that this is not a result of the workings of globalisation and the purported inability of the state to implement pro-poor policies which contradict the dominant international consensus.

Rather, in South Africa (SA) as in many other Southern countries, it lies in the reality that most of the poor no longer work in easily organisable settings such as factories. As a result, they are not organised and their concerns and demands are not voiced – by ‘pro poor organisations’ or their opponents. Instead, they are increasingly found in informal economic and social arrangements which may be inimical to democratic organisation. An understanding of prospects for a new democratic egalitarian coalition therefore lies in greater understanding of the politics of informality and its implications for organisation by the poor.

Publication details

published by
Friedman, S.
IDS Working Paper, issue 160
1 85864 424 0


About this publication

South Africa

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