South Africa's BIG debate in comparative perspectiveSouth Africa's BIG debate in comparative perspective
Institute of Development Policy and Management
Political Economy of the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa
Antwerpen :UA, 2007[*]2007
IOB discussion paper / UA, Institute of Development Policy and Management ; 2007:03
University of Antwerp
The idea of a Basic Income Grant (BIG) has for long been an appealing alternative to the means-tested social security nets associated with the welfare state as we know it. Proponents of BIG highlight as comparative advantages its unconditionality, its inclusiveness and its administrative simplicity. Moreover, as capital-intensive investment and demographic evolutions engender a decline in activity rates, social security nets that rely on labour as both a source of financing and a condition for entry seem more and more untenable. These latter systems have however for long been in place and have a firm historical embeddedness. Hence, the introduction of BIG requires a revolutionary momentum. South Africa has gone through a period of profound societal change over the last two decades. After decades of racial exclusion, post-apartheid opened the pursuit of a progressive social inclusionary politics. South Africa has been one of the few countries where social security expenditure has been steadily on the rise since the second half of the 1990s. The ANC-government has opted to strengthen several targeted grants (pensions, child grant, etc.), leaving the searing unemployed active population uncovered. This article contends that the introduction of a modest BIG, alongside the pre-existing grant system is a feasible and promising option as it would have a considerable beneficial effect on poverty without entailing large costs. This position is shared among an impressive coalition of civil society organisations and political parties. The article inquires why the ANC, in these conditions, shuns away from the introduction of BIG. We conclude that, how ripe South Africa may be for BIG, the ANC-ideology pushes government to strengthen the workfare-approach, including employment programmes, over a radical overhaul of the social security system.