Accepted paper:

Jobs or cash? The politics of social protection in Southern Africa


Elizaveta Fouksman (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

This paper looks to southern Africa to unravel the work-centered politics of social protection. It analyzes the radical political possibilities of framing cash transfers as rightful shares of national assets or post-colonial reparations rather than as efficient poverty alleviation policies.

Paper long abstract:

Southern Africa has been lauded as the site of a 'new politics of distribution' (Ferguson 2015) centered around cash transfers. South Africa and Namibia in particular are not only the site of extensive social grant programs and pioneering guaranteed income experiments, but also of past political debates around universal basic income guarantees (UBI). Yet both countries ultimately chose to reject UBI in favor of social protection policies that explicitly exclude anyone who is physically able to work. This paper traces these politics of universal social protection policies in southern Africa. It explores both why the idea of universal basic income initially took hold in South Africa and Namibia and why it ultimately failed to be translated into policy. I argue that three ideological factors played key roles in the politics of social protection in the region: cost, productivism and political framing. I look at the ways in which spurious estimates of the cost of the policy have been successfully deployed as a tool to justify a rejection that is in fact predicated on a productivist insistence that jobs - not grants - are ideologically and morally the right focus of social and economic public policy. I make the case that part of what made this rejection possible is a failure of UBI campaigns to frame the policy proposals in terms of wealth and racial inequality, post-colonial reparations, and rightful shares of natural resource wealth - pointing to possibilities for resurrecting a truly durable new politics of distribution through cash transfers.

panel M5
Understanding social protection as technologies of social ordering and reproduction within contemporary development