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Public works and overcoming under-development in South Africa

UNDP, HSRC & DBSA

Conference on Overcoming Under-development in South Africa's Second Economy, 29 October 2004

Anna McCord, Visiting Research Fellow CSSR and Research Associate, SALDRU, University of Cape Town

Posted with permission of Ms Marie Kirstein, Development Bank of Southern Africa.
[Download complete version - 75Kb < 1min (18 pages)]     [ Share with a friend  ]

Abstract

This paper gives a critical review of the potential contribution of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) to overcoming under-development and linking the second and first economies. The paper addresses the considerable disjunction between the presentation and aspirations related to the EPWP in the popular discourse, and the realities of the programme, in terms of scale and impact, which risks distorting the social protection debate in South Africa. It also highlights the sometimes contradictory labour market assumptions underlying the EPWP and concludes that the limited scale of employment offered under the EPWP, and the short duration of the employment period for each worker make it unlikely that the programme will have a significant impact on unemployment or poverty, at either household or national levels.

Introduction

This brief paper will present an overview of the nature of the unemployment crisis in South Africa and give a critical review of the potential contribution of the recently introduced Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) to overcoming under-development and linking the second and first economies. The paper first outlines the characteristics of unemployment and poverty in South Africa, and then goes on to review the EPWP objectives in the popular discourse. Next the paper examines the potential performance of the EPWP against the popular rhetoric in terms of its impact on poverty, unemployment and growth and highlights the tension between rhetoric and programme outcomes. It is concluded that while PWPs can have an impact in these key policy areas, the scale, duration and targeting of the EPWP instrument are the key constraints to successful implementation in South Africa, and that there is a major disjunction between the programme as perceived in the popular discourse, and its reality. In conclusion it is argued that increased fiscal allocations to the working age unemployed poor are critical (whether through public works or alternative redistributive measures) if the required linkage between the first and second economies is to be promoted.



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