Two decades after independence from white minority rule, mass poverty and unemployment among the country’s black majority remain South Africa’s most critical challenges. As is the case globally, women are disproportionately affected. Not only are they less likely to be employed, and earn less than men when they are, the burden of care – of the elderly, the sick and the young – rests primarily on their shoulders.
The Heinrich Böll Foundation in South Africa views this state of affairs not only as an injustice, but also as a profound threat to the country’s young democracy. On the one hand, the state’s limited ability to address unemployment and poverty undermines its legitimacy and corrodes citizens’ trust in its institutions. On the other, state institutions which provide key public services such as health care in a manner unresponsive to the needs of women are state institutions that inadequately represent half of a country’s population. Both deficiencies must be addressed if a democratic government such as South Africa’s is to realise its transformational mandate, a necessary precondition for the country’s democratic consolidation.
In the context of a grant system that does not directly cater for the country’s unemployed, the Expanded Public Works Programme is one of South Africa’s flagship programmes for addressing poverty and providing limited income to those without work. Both the political emphasis placed on this intervention, as well as the resources spent on it, demand its critical assessment.
This publication sets out to provide a critical assessment of the EPWP from the perspective of those most vulnerable: impoverished women. The four papers present original research on the impact of the public works programme on the social sector: early childhood care, victim empowerment services and municipal janitorial services. An omission that could not be addressed within the limits of this project is the impact of the programme on health services through home based care EPWP. This is a gap that will be addressed in further iterations of this project.
It is our hope that the research provided in this publication provides a basis from which South Africa’s social protection interventions can be strengthened and improved.