Home > Short Courses > Understanding Poverty and Inequality in South Africa

Understanding Poverty and Inequality in South Africa

Grappling with poverty and inequality, two of the key challenges facing South Africa, lies at the heart of most of government’s work.

Inequalities between social classes and countries combine with discrimination based on gender, race, culture and sexual orientation to form patterns of poverty and exclusion that pervade South Africa, the world today. The widening gap between the haves and have-nots impacts poverty profoundly: poverty is driven by inequality and cannot be addressed without resolving the root causes of inequality.

Dealing with inequality and structural poverty in South Africa is a complex social and economic challenge, for which there are no silver bullets. This course is designed to support public officials to deepen their understanding of poverty, inequality and inclusive growth, and of the dynamic relationships between these at individual, household, and societal levels. The course further introduces participants to a set of strategies to address these issues, and seeks to strengthen their ability both to use research to inform policy-making and planning in these areas, and to engage researchers and society more broadly to facilitate inclusion, create opportunities, and improve the lives of citizens.


The programme

This course was developed in collaboration with the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development (PSPPD) in the Presidency. Five successful iterations of the course have been delivered – in 2013, 2014, 2015,2016 and 2018. The course alumni comprises 117 senior government officials, including 6 Deputy Director Generals, 17 Chief Directors and 40 Directors, amongst others.

The programme explores the following thematic areas:


The aim of this course is to:

(I)  Provide senior government officials and policy makers with information on current debates within the poverty and inequality discourse;

(II)  Stimulate critical reflection of how their work is positioned relative to the poverty and inequality response; and

(III)  Explore potential levers and strategies that can be applied towards the attainment of greater impact on poverty as well as inequality in South Africa

As far as possible, the course highlights lessons that can be derived from experiences locally, within Africa as well as internationally. Specific attention is given to identifying ways in which to ensure lessons gained within the course are translated into daily work practices.


What do participants gain from attending the course?

  1. A conceptual understanding of poverty, inequality and inclusive growth
  2. An understanding of the dynamics and causes of poverty and inequality at an individual, household and societal level
  3. An understanding of growth measurements and the relevance to understanding poverty and inequality
  4. Recognition of potential levers of change and strategies for tackling poverty and inequality as well as creating growth
  5. Deeper insight into trends in poverty and inequality reduction from around the world
  6. An understanding of the implications of existing government strategies and programmes on poverty and inequality in the country
  7.  A set of possible approaches and tools that departments can utilise to strengthen their responses to poverty and inequality


Who should attend the course?

The course targets officials in key line departments whose work is important in addressing the challenges of poverty and inequality. This includes but is not limited to the Presidency, National Treasury and the Departments of Social Development, Basic Education, Health and Human Settlements as well as the economic departments.


Previous participants’ descriptions of the course

“As a result of the course, I am a better, more empowered change agent. I have a clear understanding of poverty and how it is experienced and how it can be combatted.”

 “The course was great as an introduction to the concepts and nature of poverty and inequality South Africa. The quality of the speakers and presenters was excellent.”

“It clarified the spectrum and the depth of issues of poverty and inequality.”

 “The concepts of poverty, economic growth and equality are now clear and will inform my approach to policy development.”