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The Impact


Before COVID 19 crisis, the poverty and unemployment rates in South Africa were already high. With some of the highest inequality rates in the world, many of the deep seated barriers created under apartheid continue, contributing to a vicious cycle of poverty.

  • South Africa remains a dual economy with one of the highest inequality rates in the world, with a consumption expenditure Gini coefficient of 0.63 in 2015. (1)
  • High inequality is perpetuated by a legacy of exclusion and the nature of economic growth, which is not pro-poor and does not generate sufficient jobs. Inequality in wealth is even higher: the richest 10% of the population held around 71% of net wealth in 2015, while the bottom 60% held 7% of the net wealth. (2)
  • In 2015, over half of South Africa’s population (55.5%) lived in poverty. However, there are certain groups which are more vulnerable to poverty. Unemployment remains a key challenge, standing at 27.6% in the first quarter of 2019. The unemployment rate is even higher among youths, at around 55.2%. (3)
  • In 2018, over half of children (59%) lived below the “upper bound” poverty line (with a per capita income below R1,183 per month), and 30% lived in households where no adults were employed. (4)


Social assistance grants are an important source of income for poor families to meet basic needs. In March 2019, 12.8 million children received the Child Support Grant nearly two-thirds of all children in South Africa; 386,000 children received the Foster Child Grant; and a further 150,000 children received the Care Dependency Grant It is received every month by over 7 million adult beneficiaries and contributes to the income of nearly 5.7 million households. (5)

A network of social justice organizations have successfully lobbied the Government to increase grant payments to mitigate the impact.  Evidence from around the world demonstrates it is one of the fastest ways to help provide immediate relief to those hardest hit.


South Africa has high levels of food inequality and hunger.  Over two million (11%) live in households where children are reported to experience hunger and 27% of children younger than five years are stunted The lock-down makes the situation even more desperate and makes it difficult to get food to communities in need. (6)

  • With schools being shut down, almost 10 million children are missing out on a warm meal each day through the school nutrition programme and early childhood development programmes, the fear is chronic malnutrition will only worsen.
  • In addition to less food, with price increases have swallowed families’ budgets and forced shoppers to buy less nutritious food: A project that monitors food prices found that the cost of a low-income household food basket increased substantially over the first three weeks of March, as the pandemic unfolded in the country.  Over the whole month, the cost of the food basket increased by 7% or R220. This increase alone is equivalent to half the value of the monthly child support grant. The same report notes shifts in purchasing patterns to less nutritious food.
  • SJI is linked to a network of partners to seek how we can improve food security not just for the short term but to address the longer term. The solutions need to tackle the systematic roots of hunger and align to the climate crisis that is impacting on agriculture. (7)


With economic insecurity and poverty-related stresses and anxiety caused by the pandemic growing, and many living under lock down in cramped conditions, there are concerns that mental health issues along with gender based will increase. Already gender based violence in South Africa is a serious problem.  Social justice organizations are now working to see how they can scale up their services to support victims and address the psychological toll on people’s mental wellbeing that has been worsened by this crisis.

According to estimates Statistics South Africa, 21 per cent of women over the age of 18 years have experienced physical violence by a partner, while 6 per cent of women have experienced sexual violence by a partner. (8) An estimated over one third of girls experiences some form of violence before the age of 18, however, it is widely believed that these numbers are inaccurate due to the fact that many cases of GBV go unreported. (9)


South Africa is home to millions of people who live in informal settlements, often surviving hand to mouth and dependent on casual labour.  While the Government set out requirements for social distancing during the lock down and a moratorium on evictions was put in place, many forced evictions of landless and homeless people are being reported, especially in the Western Cape and Gauteng.

Civil society organizations have witnessed security forces using excessive force on people without provocation or warning.  Journalists have also faced increasingly threatening behaviour.  For many impoverished people these images and stories are a reminder of the brutality used during the apartheid era under the State of Emergency.

Civil society, public legal advocates and the media are working hard to respond.  Continued support will be needed so they can monitor, advocate and report on these incidents to ensure that these human rights abuses are exposed.

The Response

The Social Justice Initiative advocates and mobilises resources.

SJI Covid-19

Putting Social Justice at the Heart of the COVID-19 Response.