This chapter explores the character of South African society, and investigates the government’s efforts to address the poverty and inequality that scar the everyday lives of so many citizens. Firstly, we place the society into comparative context, using international human development indicators to identify South Africa’s relative developmental strengths and weaknesses. We go on to explore the country’s key dimensions of relative and absolute disadvantage. Here we address the vexed conceptual and empirical issues that surround the analysis of inequality and social division. Just who is disadvantaged and why? Is South Africa essentially divided by race? Or is inequality better explained in terms of class structure, a rural–urban divide, or gender oppression? In the second half of the chapter we appraise some key government strategies to improve the situation of the less advantaged, through employment creation, social protection programmes, public service delivery, social infrastructure, and education policy.
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