Challenging inequalities through policy relevant academic research.


March 2021

Dear Friends,

This month marks our one-year anniversary since we vacated our offices and went into our new virtual and remote mode of work. None of us really thought that we would be at home for this long, and at present there is no clear date for returning to our building either. This pandemic has been challenging for everyone, in multiple ways, and we are in awe of the support and care that the SALDRU team has shown for each other. It is truly a privilege to be working with a group as talented and dedicated as ours has been under these difficult circumstances.

Our lead article for this month is by Dr Andrew Donaldson, and presents some commentary and analysis of the national budget that was tabled before parliament in late February. As Andrew points out, the growth outlook has deteriorated, and this in turn places pressure on fiscal revenues. At the same time, the need for social spending due to the pandemic has increased, while there is growing concern about the national debt levels and how they will be managed. All of these factors result in a very difficult environment in which to design and implement an acceptable budget.

In more general events, we have a number of celebratory announcements to share. Pippa Green, who left us a few years ago to serve as the Press Ombudsman, has returned to work on the Econ3x3 project. J-PAL Africa turns 10 this year, and has grown from strength to strength since their inception. A link to some of their reflections from their journey to date is included below. Finally, a recent article by Saldrupians, with Fabio Diaz as the lead author and co-authored with Mike Savage from the London School of Economics, was recently published in the British Journal of Sociology. This was a special edition that was inspired by Thomas Piketty’s new book, and the article reflects on inequality in the South African context in relation to the Piketty book.

Best wishes,

Murray Leibbrandt
Director, SALDRU
Vimal Ranchhod
Deputy Director, SALDRU

On the 2021 Budget

Image: Nataliya Vaitkevich.

The 2021 South African National Budget confirms National Treasury’s firm resolve to reverse South Africa’s rising debt burden while adjusting to a lower growth and inflation outlook. The outcome is a brutal constraint on spending for the period ahead. Andrew Donaldson reviews South Africa’s 2021 National Budget in this article.


Pippa Green returns to SALDRU as the Managing Editor of Econ3x3

SALDRU is delighted to welcome back Pippa Green, who returns to SALDRU as the Managing Editor of Econ3x3, the SALDRU-managed online forum for critical public debate on unemployment and employment, income distribution, and inclusive growth in South Africa. Read more.                


Piketty comes to South Africa

In this paper, Piketty's “Capital and Ideology” analysis and policy proposals are interrogated against the evidence from the case of South Africa. The authors reflect on the South African case, the structure of inequality, and its changes since 1994; and review a battery of policy interventions that have been implemented to address inequality in the last 25 years. They emphasize that the long shadow cast by centuries of colonialism and various forms of apartheid strongly affirm Piketty's emphasis on understanding history. They also reflect on how the extreme initial wealth and racial inequities inform the reproduction of inequalities in all dimensions and undermine well-intentioned policies. The authors claim that understanding extractive histories, embedded wealth inequalities, and complex social and political institutions allows us to better understand and confront some of the reasons why, despite multiple progressive policies, government interventions have thus far failed to reduce inequality. Access here.

Citation: Díaz Pabón F.A., Leibbrandt M., Ranchhod V., Savage M. Piketty comes to South Africa. British Journal of Sociology. 2021;72:106–124.

For more SALDRU working papers, journal article contributions and policy briefs, please visit OpenSALDRU.


J-PAL Africa: A decade of bridging the gap between research and policy

Image: Intersect.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the J-PAL (Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab) Africa office. During this time, J-PAL Africa has supported researchers to conduct randomized evaluations on important policy questions in South Africa, as well as supported governments and organisations across sub-Saharan Africa to improve lives by using evidence in policy and programme design. Over the past 10 years, J-PAL Africa has achieved many meaningful milestones such as launching Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) Africa together with the NGO Pratham, to scale remedial learning solutions across the continent; as well as hosting the Digital Identification and Finance Research Initiative (DigiFI) and conducting important research into labour markets and energy in South Africa.

To learn more on how J-PAL Africa’s impact has evolved over the years and read reflections from their partners, visit J-PAL’s new J-PAL Africa @10 page.

Work out how wealthy you are compared to rest of SA with this simple tool
2oceansvibe, 11 March
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