Publication Date

April 2016


Michael Nelson




English (United States)


Why has inequality between South Africa’s racial groups persisted, and in some cases worsened, in South Africa since the end of the apartheid? This project answers this question using three levels of analysis: the global system, the state level and the sector-specific (employment and education) level. I contextualize post-apartheid South African development as an outcome of global forces as well as the result of decisions by individual and group state actors. On the global level, I draw on both Wallerstein’s world-systems analysis and Gilpin’s state-centric realism as theoretical frames of reference. I argue that South Africa’s position as a middle-income, semi periphery country within a Western-hegemonic world system has largely shaped South African development. While state actors promoted policy choices they believed to be in the interests of South Africa, the state’s position within the greater world system limited the extent of agency these actors could exercise. On the state level, I analyze persistent inequality through five causal factors: the apartheid legacy, the neoliberal agenda, the business-political elite, unions and corruption. I argue that the apartheid legacy, the neoliberal agenda and the business-political alliance are the most important factors for inequality. Neoliberal policies, pushed by the business and political elite, have stratified the labor market and the education system into a two-tiered system, defined by the apartheid legacy. Unions and corruption are also important, but insufficient on their own to create these patterns of inequality. Finally, on a sector-specific level, I find that while immigration is widely perceived as a major cause of inequality within employment, this belief is largely baseless and speaks more closely to growing public frustrations. I also find that teacher quality is an important causal mechanism for wide gaps in education between races.



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