n Acta Juridica - How social security becomes social insecurity : unsettled households, crisis talk and the value of grants in a KwaZulu-Natal village

Volume 2013, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0065-1346
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2088


Social grants have become increasingly important as income for many in South Africa. Grants are not welcomed by all however: in the village where I undertook fieldwork as many as 70 per cent of its inhabitants rely on grants, and yet people regard cash transfers with suspicion. Villagers perceive that rural households have been unsettled in the post-apartheid period - with the decline of marriage exemplary - frequently attributing this to grants 'empowering' women at the expense of 'tradition'. Although social grants are provided unevenly, and give some people - especially young mothers - relatively greater economic prospects than others, I argue that the instability of households in the countryside cannot be understood as the effect of the grant in isolation from the widespread absence of wage work. Indeed, such unemployment makes it increasingly difficult to be a permanent resident of the village without a grant and shapes people's movement between the country and the city. Hence grants that are intended to protect those left most vulnerable by apartheid migrant labour have unintended material effects, standing in for waged labour and appearing - even to grant recipients - as disrupting social reproduction and becoming a sign of the state's failure to foster a better future.

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