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South Africa node, hosted by the University of Cape Town


The Southern Africa node of ACEIR is based at the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) at the University of Cape Town. The work is aimed at measuring economic inequality in South Africa and disentangling the drivers of inequality in this country. The idea is that a better understanding of inequality dynamics in South Africa, which is based on evidence and rigorous analysis, can improve the policies designed to address extreme inequality in South Africa.

The analysis of large datasets mostly involve survey data, such as South Africa’s National Income Dynamics Study or data collected by the national statistical office, Statistics South Africa. Administrative data on education or taxes are also used. At present, the node’s work is shifting from the dominant focus on inequality measurement to also include work on the drivers of inequality and policy levers to address inequality.

The potential of the research

The research contributes to a broader project in understanding inequality in South Africa. Some of it will be published in journals or as working papers and then translated into policy briefs. It is important to understand that one piece of research seldom makes a huge impact, either to researchers’ understanding or to the world at large. What is more effective is to slowly build a substantial body of evidence, with each individual’s research generally contributing a small amount to this process. But with a number of researchers, and across a long period of time, there is tremendous potential to have an impact on how people think about inequality and how to reduce the exceptionally high rates of inequality.

Beneficiaries of the research

Beneficiaries can be thought of as circles of influence. The primary beneficiaries are the academic community that studies inequality, as this is the group best placed to read and understand the work.

Then, closely related are the students who get involved in the process, as they get training in the methods of research and exposure to the subject matter. Over time, as a body of literature emerges, it has the potential to shape both public opinion as well as policymakers’ ways of thinking.

Research links to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Inequality is a direct measure of welfare. High levels of inequality are shown to correlate with higher levels of stress, poor health, social and political instability, and economic distortions. Hence, addressing the levels of inequality in South Africa will affect many of the SDGs.

The benefits of participating in ACEIR

At the most fundamental level, a key role of the academy is to find truth. Without research, we wouldn’t know if inequality was really very high in South Africa relative to other countries, nor would we know if it was getting better or worse.

The Southern Africa node of ACEIR and its work is one part of a much larger ecosystem. Being a member of a research network such as ACEIR enables the node team to teach and learn new skills from partners and facilitates comparability of research findings across different geo-political entities. The means that the researchers are likely to progress both farther and faster in terms of addressing the challenges that inequality poses to the country.