Death, capabilities and the poverty trap in South Africa: negotiating different levels of crisis

Conradie, Ina; May, Julian (2014). 'Death, capabilities and the poverty trap in South Africa: negotiating different levels of crisis' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

In this study we look at different but interrelated elements of crisis in the struggle to overcome poverty in South Africa. We explain the context by looking at the so-called 'poverty trap' in which the majority of the South African population is caught up; we examine the ways in which the HIV/Aids pandemic contributes to crisis, particularly amongst the poor, and we ask how capabilities and agency are affected in this context. Conradie and Robeyns (2013) proposed that under certain conditions, the 'capacity to aspire' (Appadurai, 2004) can be agency unlocking in conditions of poverty. Here we want to examine how the experience of an AIDS related death in the family affects the capacity to aspire, agency, hope and capabilities, and therefore efforts to overcome poverty.

Adato, Carter and May (2006) show that the poor in South Africa are caught in a poverty trap from which it is difficult to escape. This poverty trap is unusual in that it concerns the majority of the population. This particular pattern is the result of structural oppression during colonialism and during the time when apartheid policies were implemented, i.e. between 1948 and 1994. Other scholars such as Nattrass and Seekings (2010) and Leibbrandt (2012, 2013) confirm this pattern.  Carter et al (2007) suggest that premature adult deaths are likely to perpetuate this poverty trap, further hindering the prospect of finding a pathway from poverty.  Within this context the poor are particularly vulnerable to crisis. A shortcoming of most of this work is that poverty is narrowly conceptualised as income or economic wealth. 

Crisis takes many forms and can be an outcome of economic dynamics, natural disasters and violence.  Health crises are particularly common in the Global South, with the HIV/AIDS pandemic becoming the second most important cause of ill health and death in sub-Saharan Africa (World Bank, 2010).  Studies in Africa that have examined the consequences of AIDS-related deaths at the level of the household have found that they have a significant economic impact in terms of the incomes of afflicted households (Gertler et al., 2002; Chapoto and Jayne, 2005; Naidu and Harris, 2005; Yamano and Jayne, 2005; Yamano et al., 2004). Serious illness shocks, including those which do not result in an adult death, have also been found to have significant negative impact on economic welfare, especially for the poorest, driving up expenditure on health care and reducing capacity for productive activities (Beegle et al, 2008; Menon et al., 1998). Few studies have tried to understand longer running impact of illness and the premature death of an adult upon the capabilities of individuals and their prospects of escaping poverty.

This is of particular concern in the context of South Africa where the total number of persons living with HIV in South Africa increased from an estimated 4 million in 2002 to 5,3 million by 2013. For 2013 an estimated 10% of the total population is HIV positive. Approximately seventeen percent of South African women in their reproductive ages are HIV positive (Stats SA, 2013).  Despite the roll out of the world's largest ARV programme, between 370,000 and 450,000 deaths were attributed to AIDS in 2012 (UNAIDS, 2013).

For this study we propose to examine the ways in which dimensions such as hope, aspirations, and the exercise of agency are affected by an AIDS death in the family. In order to do so we shall also examine some underlying factors, such as the ways in which reflective judgement, motivation, pursuit of goals, autonomy, relatedness and competence were influenced by the trauma of the loss of a family member (Conradie, 2014). In this context it would be particularly important to consider possible forms of adaptation, in which awareness, motivation and hope could be inhibited by the experience of loss (Elster, 1983; Teschl and Comim, 2005; Clark, 2012).

We make use of a long running qualitative capability analysis of families in Site C, Khayelitsha, near Cape Town (Conradie, 2014; Conradie, 2013; Conradie and Robeyns, 2013) on how aspirations helped to unlock agency and contributed to increased capabilities. For the current study we intend to concentrate on ten families which have recently lost a member due to AIDS. We shall use the narratives of members of these households to ascertain how the loss of this person, most often a mother or daughter of the family, influenced the other members of the family. We shall explore the impact of this experience of loss on livelihoods and subsistence, on aspirations and hope, as well as on social support and on belief systems. In order to do so we intend to compile a list of key dimensions with some of the key respondents, and to use the list to ascertain how the capabilities of the respondents were affected by the crisis of Aids in the context of poverty.  

The ways in which the dual crisis of poverty and AIDS impacts on Human Development in South Africa will form a part of our analysis and we shall consider the ways in which policies could be adapted to address this problem.


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