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Social Stratification in South Africa

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Keywords: Social stratification, South Africa, gender inequality, poverty

Introduction

Social stratification can be defined as a form of social inequity which involves the ranking of individuals into hierarchies according to their wealth and status and thus succeeding in the formation of distinct social groups (Haralambos & Holborn, 2004:1). Before 1994, this was a huge and worrying problem in South Africa as cases of gender inequality, inequality in education systems, racial inequality and many other forms of social prejudice were becoming more and more severe. However, after the introduction of a new democratic society, the South African government has been slowly reforming the inequalities of our past and attempting to prevent the occurrences of social stratification in general. This essay will discuss the various attempts made by the government to prevent social stratification. In particular, it will focus on the reasons why the government implemented these specific programmes, what they aimed to achieve when implementing them, and also the results of these programmes and the effects on the South African society.

Gender Inequality in South Africa

As the years have passed, the case of gender inequality has become much more severe in South Africa. In the past, a women's place was known to be in the kitchen while the man's duty was to hunt and fight battles in the fields. Each gender group had a specific role towards the success of their homes and societies. By today's standards, these traditional African culture routines are seen as unfair, yet the issue of gender inequality has worsened since then (Bwakali, 2001).Women are known to be discriminated against, being frequently sexually harassed, and they generally receive a lower income than men because they are not seen as important elements in comparison to males in the business world. It is known that, in South Africa, a rape occurs every thirty-six seconds, one in every three women is in an abusive relationship, and a woman is killed by her partner every six days (Maharaj, 1999). Clearly, this is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with urgently and with immediate effect.

The Government's Plan to Alleviate Gender Inequality

The South African government is bound to numerous national and global commitments and obligations which require it to uphold gender equality within the country and make certain that it is achieved within society as a whole. South Africa is lawfully compelled to follow the steps outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to ensure that there is a process being followed in order to achieve gender equality in South Africa (Sadie & Loots, 1998). An example of some of the changes made to eradicate gender inequality in South Africa is the empowerment of women in the workplace, the access to greater education and training to increase the number of opportunities for women in society, and also the stressing of the importance of female health and well-being which includes greater forms of punishment for violence against women and also greater access to health facilities available.

Poverty in South Africa

Poverty levels in South Africa continue to be very high. No significant change has occurred since the inception of our country's new democratic society, and the issue of poverty is becoming worse and worse as the years pass by. With only a 5.7 percent decrease in poverty over “the first twelve year period of South Africa's new democracy”, nearly half of South Africa's population live in extreme poverty. Due to the inequality regarding income levels, there is a wide gap between the rich and the poor of our country and the unemployment rates in South Africa are as high as 40 percent. This social stratification of the rich and the poor is causing great problems amongst our society and leading to higher crime rates and social violence issues (Luyt, 2008).

The Alleviation of Poverty in South Africa

In order for the high poverty levels in South Africa to be significantly decreased, the specific dimensions and causes of poverty have to be looked at first, since this would allow the government to take specific actions to alleviate the various forms of poverty. Without a good form of authority, poverty will never be successfully reduced. Thus far, our government has provided “housing, water, sanitation, electrification, health and education” to some of our country's disadvantaged communities and peoples. Also, to alleviate the issue of crime due to high unemployment levels, the government is aiding in job creation for the poor in governmental services and providing skills development training for the uneducated (Luyt, 2008).

Overall Changes in South Africa's Society

All in all, the government is attempting to prevent the occurrence of social stratification within the South African society but this is not a very easy task. Although the government has provided certain disadvantaged communities with essential needs, there is still a lot of work to be done to completely break down the social hierarchies within our country regarding gender and poverty. There are many complaints that not enough has been done to improve South Africa's social status since 1994, but even the poor citizens have more advantages than their families did a generation ago. The government has provided assistance to millions of South African citizens with the introduction of social programs, and also providing housing and electricity (Eisner, 2009).

Conclusion

Therefore, even though the occurrences of social stratification have not been completely eradicated from South Africa, the government has been hard at work and trying their utmost best to provide its citizens with basic and essential needs such as housing, electricity, health care. Etc. Many are cynical about the progress that South Africa has made since the end of the Apartheid era because they are either still living in poverty or have not enjoyed the benefits of living in a democratic society. However, change cannot be expected to occur instantaneously, and if given a few years South Africa can be transformed into a great and powerful democratic society with equality for all.


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