The current wave of democratisation in the South has not triggered a sustained assault on social inequality such as occurred in established democracies. This paper analyses this problem in post-apartheid South Africa. It notes that the limits and possibilities of democratic redistributive politics are framed by an identity-based coalition in which the demands of black professional and business classes for greater racial equity compete with those of a coalition of trade unions and other civil society organisations who champion the poor. While poverty is not ignored, the preoccupations of the more affluent black groups tend to take precedence. It is argued that this is not a result of the workings of globalisation and the purported inability of the state to implement pro-poor policies which contradict the dominant international consensus. Rather, in South Africa as in many other Southern countries, it lies in the reality that most of the poor do not work in easily organisable settings such as factories. As a result, they are not organised and their concerns and demands are not voiced. Instead, they are increasingly found in informal economic and social arrangements that may be inimical to democratic organisation. An understanding of prospects for a new democratic egalitarian coalition therefore lies in greater understanding of the politics of informality and its implications for organisation by the poor.
IDS Working Paper No. 160, May 2002, Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies, ISBN 1-85864-424-0, 38 pp.