Challenging inequalities through policy relevant academic research.


November 2020

Dear Friends,

SALDRU has a long history of working on inequality in South Africa, which is aligned with our data gathering activities and statistical expertise. This expertise then feeds into some of our more policy-oriented work. Recently, we have been thinking hard about some of our more academically focussed work on inequality, about how we can contribute better to the international academic discourse on inequality, and how our own work might benefit from using multidisciplinary forms of analysis. Fabio Andrés Díaz Pabón shares details on some of this work in this month’s newsletter, which includes a discussion of work emanating from a very exciting collaboration that we have begun with Mike Savage, an eminent sociologist based at the London School of Economics.

A multidisciplinary team from SALDRU, together with partners from Stellenbosch University and the University of Chicago, have been collaborating to help establish benchmarks for foundational reading skills in three Nguni languages. Prof. Cally Ardington leads the SALDRU contingent in this fascinating project, which highlights some of the complexities involved in benchmarking and establishing norms in linguistic education.

In other news, J-PAL Africa’s DigiFI project recently launched a new blog series, and Dr. Jacqueline Mosomi was interviewed on her research on the gendered labour market effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Best wishes,

Murray Leibbrandt
Director, SALDRU
Vimal Ranchhod
Deputy Director, SALDRU

The value of South Africa for understanding durable inequalities

Image: Joseph VM on Pixabay.

The lessons and experiences from South Africa have a lot to contribute to the conceptualisation and implementation of policies to reduce inequality worldwide, as well as to the theories that can help us to understand how inequalities come about. To try to surface these lessons and contributions, a team of Saldrupians have been focusing their work in recent months to reflect along three lines of inquiry. First, they reviewed how different policy proposals have succeeded or failed to reduce market and non-market inequalities in the country. Secondly, they reviewed Piketty’s most recent book: Capital and Ideology, to reflect on how it might enable them to better understand and describe the forces that create resilient and self-reproducing inequalities as in the case of South Africa. Thirdly, they reflected on how the contributions from other fields of research (e.g. sociology) can shed light on understanding the different mechanisms that reproduce inequities. Read more.

Benchmarking early grade reading literacy skills in Nguni languages

Image: Gabrielle Wills.

In early 2019 South African president Cyril Ramaphosa articulated a new and clear expectation for basic education: every child should be able to read for meaning by age 10. While reading for meaning is the goal of reading, reading is a complex and hierarchical process. A range of foundational reading subskills need to be mastered before one can comprehend or understand what is in a text. To prevent children from falling behind in the developmental sequence of reading, a shared vision of what reading success looks like at each step is required. A multi-disciplinary team from SALDRU at UCT, RESEP at Stellenbosch University and NORC at the University of Chicago have collaborated to inform this shared vision through the establishment of benchmarks for foundational reading skills in three Nguni languages. The summary and technical benchmarking reports were recently launched by the Department of Education as part of their workshop on Reading Benchmarks for African Languages. Read more.

Interview with Aldrin Sampear on PowerFM

Image: Magda Ehlers on Pixabay.

Earlier this month, Dr. Jacqueline Mosomi was interviewed by Aldrin Sampear on PowerFM’s Power Talk show. During the interview, Jaqueline shared insights from recent research on the gendered labour market effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ‘triple burden’ that women have faced in the COVID-19 pandemic. Listen to the interview.


Aidan Horn completes online course on Data Analysis for Social Scientists

SALDRU Junior Researcher Aidan Horn recently completed the J-PAL / MIT's online MicroMasters course on EdX, Data Analysis for Social Scientists taught by Prof. Esther Duflo and Prof. Sara Ellison. The course content included econometric theory, using R, as well as web scraping, power calculations, and an overview of machine learning.


DigiFI Africa’s new blog series launched: The various facets of digital IDs and digital payments

Image: AUN UN IST PHOTO / Tobin Jones.

Digital Identification and Finance Initiative in Africa (DigiFI), a research initiative based at J-PAL Africa, launched a new blog series. The series unpacks key policy and research questions on digital ID and payments systems in sub-Saharan Africa, while exploring a subset of the academic literature provided in their framing paper. This series includes posts on:

If you are interested in exploring any of these questions and are a J-PAL Affiliate, DigiFI Invited Researcher or African Scholar who would like to apply for our research funding, please reach out to us on


SALDRU Seminars

Please note: In order to decrease risk and spread of the COVID-19, as well as aligning with the university's decision on minimising gatherings, all SALDRU seminars are cancelled until further notice.

For information about past and future seminars, click here. To subscribe to our seminar mailing list, click here.
UCT News, 19 November
Alan Hirsch: a legacy of service and building leadership

Polity, 18 November
COVID-19 could reverse gender equality gains in labour – study

UCT News, 17 November
COVID-19 could ‘derail’ gender equality progress in SA’s labour market

Mail & Guardian, 1 November
SA has a retirement savings crisis

Cape Times, 19 October
More SA women studying further - survey
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