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The idea of social grants in post-apartheid South Africa: a decolonial interpretive analysis

This thesis examines the meanings of a social grant in South Africa using a decolonial interpretive analysis. The main objective of the research is to decode possible meanings of the social grant programme in South Africa by examining its possible transformative role in poverty and inequality, using the lived experiences of the beneficiaries of this programme. The thesis deploys a qualitative case study design to examine the extent to which the idea of social grants in South Africa contributes or fails to contribute to meaningful change to the power structure that produces and perpetuates poverty and inequality. The thesis employs the theoretical framework of structure and agency to evaluate the agential role of the social grant programme in the power structure of modernity/coloniality – a power structure that is at the forefront of producing continuing poverty and inequality in South Africa. Thus, the decolonial epistemic paradigm is used to determine whether the social grant intervention in the South African development discourse produces a diachronic change or a synchronic continuity to the power structure of modernity/coloniality that continues to play a generative role in the poverty and inequality experienced by the peoples of South Africa. The fieldwork for this study was conducted among the poor communities of four communities in the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality, namely the townships of Mamelodi, Atteridgeville, Soshanguve and Winterveld (one participant resided in Hammanskraal but spent more time in Mamelodi). A central aspect of the data collection was constructing a profile of social grant beneficiaries in order to determine the transformative impact of the social grant programme by examining its potential to address the twin challenges of poverty and inequality. One key finding in the study is that the recipients were born in families that endured poverty; in their adult lives, they find themselves still trapped in the cycle of poverty. Participants differ in how they see social grants: some see it as a “helping hand”, while others see it as “free money”. It was clear that the social grants do provide some relief. Results show, however, that social grants are a repetition without change’ as they are embedded in a prescriptive structure. Social grants reproduce the structure of coloniality of power that is hidden in development approaches. The key finding of the thesis is therefore that the idea of social grants in South Africa plays an “anti-politics” role which cushions rather than eradicates the extreme effects of poverty and inequality – a role that sustains rather than transforms the power structure of coloniality that produces these effects. It is therefore concluded that social grants cannot bring about the change that its recipients need in order to truly develop and break the cycle of poverty. Social grants provide a safety net, and this safety net deprives the recipient of an opportunity to begin thinking of another world, one of equality where there are systems in place to assist citizens to develop and to break the continuous cycle of poverty.
Keywords: social grants, poverty,

Full Name
Dr Xolisa Magawana
Programme