The ripple effects of poverty investigated

2011-09-14 00:00

SOCIOLOGIST, Dr Sarah Mosoetsa investigated two different communities living in KwaZulu-Natal for her book, Eating from One Pot. The result is a multilayered analysis of the adverse effects of poverty on the fabric of society.

The communities of Mpumalanga and Enhlalakahle have been affected by retrenchments and economic recession. As Mosoetsa delved deeper into her work to find out the dynamics of the shrinking labour market, she found she had to redefine what “work” meant in the townships where so many people are unemployed.

Widespread unemployment has had many ripple effects on the community. Mosoetsa said she expected a far different outcome when she started her research. “I naively believed that I would find that poor people had a sense of resilience and that they coped with hardship by tapping into a sense of ubuntu,” she writes.

But she discovered that under the surface there were many social problems and that poverty always has an ugly face. One of the things that has changed is the role of men in the townships. Because many of them are no longer the breadwinners this has challenged their role as the head of the family.

In a bid to reassert themselves, men have turned to traditional patriarchal values, but this has not been met without challenge.

“Young women are reluctant to take on the role or the burden that their mothers assumed. They want to be free like their brothers, and this causes a lot of intergenerational conflict.

“In the midst of all this conflict there is shame and an enormous feeling of powerlessness ... although the government has been giving grants to the poorest people, there are many problems in the implementation of these grants.”

As grinding poverty takes its toll, the household has become the focus of survival. People have been forced to live together in more united family units and share resources with their neighbours.

But with the crippling cost of services like electricity and water even the household is not a safe haven, which explains in part the explosive service-delivery protests that have taken place in poor neighbourhoods around the country.

• Sarah Mosoetsa is a research associate at the Society, Work, and Development Institute (Swop), University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Eating From One Pot is published by Wits University Press.

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