Engaging with South Africa`s Anti-Poverty Consensus

Contesting the Frame
Engaging with South Africa’s Anti-Poverty
Human Rights and Economic Justice
Yale University, 18 October 2013
Andries du Toit
Institute for Poverty Land, and Agrarian Studies
A disclaimer
No heartening tales of triumph or ‘best practices’ for ‘uptake
of evidence’.
The search for impact is about contestations on a political
In this talk: questions and reflections about the search for a
“ … does research, policy
engagement, teaching and
training about the dynamics of
chronic poverty and structural
inequality in southern Africa…”
Our focus is on the dynamics of
vulnerable and marginalized
livelihoods in rural areas and
within South Africa’s agro-food
Opportunities and challenges
One set of opportunities and challenges flow from the peculiar
nature of the pro-poor consensus in South African politics…
… others flow from the political (dis) organization of the
policy process in the South African state.
South Africa’s anti-poverty
Since 1994, there has been an unusual degree of agreement on
the centrality of poverty as an issue of political and social
concern and on the measures needed to address it…
… but there is a disjuncture between the hopes embodied in
this consensus and the ability to address the root causes of
The limits of the pro-poor consensus
Part of the problem lies in the structural nature of the
processes and relationships that entrench and perpetuate
structural inequality and poverty…
… and part lies in the nature of that anti-poverty consensus
Poverty is framed in depoliticized ways that mystify its nature,
obscure its causes, and disconnects poverty from a concern
with inequality.
The policy process
Until 2009, presidential hegemony in an increasingly centralized
and tightly controlled policy process
Evidence and findings that cannot be reconciled with dominant
policy narratives are marginalized or ‘silently silenced’
Since 2009, an increasingly incoherent policy framework
characterized by a ‘war of position’ between vying ideological
… so that ‘pathways to impact’ via policy change become
increasingly fragile and disconnected
Strategic aims
To support the capacity for the development (within state and
civil society) of better ‘theories of change’ about the
constraints to and opportunities for livelihoods at the
margins of the South African economy
(Neither simple optimism about the effects of ‘growth’ (World
Bank, 2013), nor apocalyptic narratives about ‘neoliberalism’
and ‘waste lives’ capture the complexity of the threats or the
Our strengths and resources
Using detailed research to develop an in-depth qualitative
understanding of the dynamics of livelihoods at the economic
Using participatory pedagogic methods to support processes
of social learning that allow people to ‘reframe’ their
understanding of complex processes…
Using our symbolic and reputational capital (!) to act as a
convenor and commentator in public space.
The terrain
We need to move away from a narrow focus on the state,
formal policy, and expert decision-making towards an
engagement with a wider array of actors within and outside
the state.
Engaging with private governance of
the South African Food system
Reframing debates, contesting myths
Using resources
and training to
contest the ways
in which South
African media
frame debates
Will it work?
“It’s too early to tell”…
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