Dichotomies of chronic and episodic rural-urban poverty: a South African context

  • Adeleke Gbadebo Fatai


This contribution acknowledges that understanding contexts, dimensions and dynamics of poverty in rural and urban South Africa is preponderant to the design, implementation and appraisal of state and private concerted actions and policies. In the last decade, multidimensional conceptions of poverty have come to the fore, which increasingly view poverty as marked by a series of interlinked intrinsic and instrumental deprivations in chronic and episodic narratives. One major problem that sophisticates rural-urban comparative studies is that there is no universally agreed upon definition of ‘urban’ or ‘rural’. By virtue of their contrasting contexts, rural and urban areas are diametrically divergent in terms of their characteristics. As people in rural areas are characterised by socio-economic homogeneity and thus they enjoy communitarianism, urbanites generally belong to different castes, creeds, religions and cultures, thus they rarely share same social statuses, norms and values. Whilst literature documents increased blurring of urban-rural distinctions in developed countries, the paper identifies multidimensional characterisation of settlement type based on style and density of housing, predominant commercial and agricultural activities, and access to services as variables which still vividly demonstrate the rural-urban dichotomy in South Africa. The contribution finds that notwithstanding its various permutations, poverty continues to be conventionally defined by low incomes and consumption, its alleged rural orientation and equivocal methodologies in measuring its chronic or episodic nature, regardless of the fact that poverty is multi-dimensional and can be non-material. This conceptual paper engages on a scholarship synthesis of characteristics and contexts of the rural-urban dichotomy and the chronic or episodic nature of various dimensions and dynamics of income poverty in a bid to lay a foundation upon which interventions can be successfully designed, implemented and appraised in post-apartheid South Africa.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1995-641X
print ISSN: 0256-2804