President Thabo Mbeki agreed on Thursday to study data indicating a sharp rise in poverty among the white population, seen by some critics as a consequence of his government’s post-apartheid affirmative action policy.
A decade after democracy, most of South Africa’s wealth remains in the hands of the white minority and the government is driving efforts to empower millions of poor black people.
But critics of black economic empowerment say it benefits only a few elite businesspeople and is not filtering through to the masses, while such policies shut some white people out of jobs and contracts.
Mbeki was asked on Thursday to respond to statistics from the University of South Africa’s Bureau for Market Research that showed unemployment among white South Africans has increased by 200 percent since 1994.
“If indeed there are consequences of government’s actions which are resulting in greater impoverishment, clearly that is something we will have to look at,” Mbeki said.
“I will have a look at it and then we can get together and have a look and see how we should respond,” he added.
White South Africans were virtually guaranteed jobs under apartheid policies which favoured them, but now are often forced into tough competition for available work.
The study indicated 400 000 white people—or about 10 percent of the white population—lived below the poverty line compared to none in 1990, Freedom Front Plus lawmaker Willie Spies said.
South Africa’s overall unemployment rate is estimated at between 28 and 40 percent, and is most severe among poor rural blacks.
The United Nations 2003 South Africa Human Development Report released this year said 21,9 million people, or 48,5 percent of the total population, lived below the poverty line.
It also said that overall South Africa remained one of the world’s most inequitable countries, with average annual spending in white households six times that of their black counterparts and income disparities widening.