World Food Day 2023: 50% of South Africans live below poverty line

By Ronda Naidu

World Food Day 2023: 50% of South Africans live below poverty line

Poverty remains a pressing challenge in South Africa, despite the country having resolved to eradicate poverty in all its forms by 2030 to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 1 (SDG 1).

Amidst the myriad of data available, two issues in particular stand out – the Gini coefficient and South Africans living below the poverty line.

With a Gini coefficient of around 0.67, South Africa is widely acknowledged to have a shockingly high rate of income inequality. This is due to a number of factors, chief of which is the unemployment rate which stood at 32.9% in the first quarter of 2023.

Simultaneously, data released in September 2023 by Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity (PMBEJD), an advocacy and research group, showed that the average cost of a household food basket increased by 7.3% year-on-year to R5,155.77 (US$270.88). Through its Household Affordability Index, the PMBEJD tracks food price data, recording the cost of the same number of basic food items purchased monthly.

In comparison and for context, it is worth noting that the consumer price index food inflation was recorded at 8.2% in August 2023 and the national minimum wage (NMW) was calculated at R4,067.20 (US$213.69) per month.

Distributed among a worker’s family of four people, the NMW is reduced to R1,016,80 (US$53.42) per person – this is below the upper poverty line of R1,558 (US$81.86) per person per month according to the PMBEJD.

“In September 2023, the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet was R907,43 (US$47.68)” the PMBEJD noted. The year-on-year increase for this indicator was recorded at 9.5%.

From a macro perspective, the World Bank estimates that almost 63% of South Africans live below the upper-middle-income poverty line which it changes in September 2022 to US$6.85 per person per day which equates to ~R129,82 per day.

South Africa has set its food poverty line at R624 (US$32.78) per person per month, the lower poverty line at R890 (US$46.76) per person per month, and the upper poverty line at R1,335 (US$70.14).

According to Statistics South Africa, in 2021 approximately 50% of South Africans lived below the national poverty line. This means that half the population struggled to meet basic needs including access to food, housing, and healthcare.

Bearing in mind these numbers, it is no surprise that the 2021 Household Food Security Report showed that 21% of the country’s 17.9 million households struggled to access adequate food.

Fig.1. Households levels of accessing food

Source: Statistics South Africa

A number of measures are in place to address this dire situation including the National School Nutrition Program and community food gardens, social assistance grants including the Old Age Grant, Child Support Grant, and Disability Grant, and the National Development Plan (NDP).

Coincidentally, much like the UN’s SDG 1, the NDP also aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. It is, unfortunately, clear on this World Food Day, that such a goal is all but unachievable and much much more needs to be done to eradicate poverty in South Africa.