Page last updated at 00:59 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 01:59 UK

South Africa poverty 'emergency'

A South African woman and her grandchild in a rural village without electricity or running water
One in four South Africans are unemployed, and poverty is rife

A former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town has described poverty in South Africa as being worse than ever.

Having met communities affected by poverty across the country, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane said South Africa was in "a state of emergency".

"The anger, the frustration and the feeling of hopelessness especially among young people is a recipe for possible disaster," he said.

Official figures suggest around 25% of South Africans are unemployed.

"Never before in the history of South Africa have such large gatherings of people consistently said 'we have no food,'" said the archbishop.

"In a country where huge amounts can be spent on [the 2010] soccer world cup or increasing salaries, it is unthinkable that so many can go without food."

Speaking to journalists in Cape Town on Wednesday, he challenged government ministers to go with him, village by village, to tell people what would be done to help them kick-start and maintain agricultural production to feed their families.

Poverty Hearings

The former archbishop is the president and founder of African Monitor - a group of civil society organisations that toured all nine South African provinces to mark the 10th anniversary of the National Poverty Hearings in Cape Town.

The five key issues emerging from meetings with residents of the country's most impoverished areas were:

  • the deepening impact of extreme hunger across the country
  • widespread unemployment leading to a lack of access to resources
  • the prevalence of diseases such as Aids and tuberculosis and the lack of primary health care
  • widespread dependence on inadequate social security
  • frustration at government inaction

Archbishop Ndungane challenged a government budgetary statement released on Tuesday that he said suggested the country was "okay in view of the global economic crisis".

"The people of South Africa living in poverty are saying they are not okay," he said. "They are hungry and struggling. They are unemployed."

The archbishop said he had met people frustrated at their lack of prospects, who now resorted to stealing, and warned of the potential for widespread social unrest if such a situation continued.

Government grants were inadequate in the face of "the astronomical increase of the cost of living, particularly food prices and prices of paraffin", he added.

But he said poor people would rather be provided with the resources to improve their own situations - such as farming equipment and seeds - than government grants.

The World Bank warned in August that world poverty was much greater than previously thought, with the number of poor people in Africa having nearly doubled from 200m in 1981 to 380m in 2005.

World poverty 'more widespread'
27 Aug 08 |  Business

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