Colonialism and Welfare

Colonialism and Welfare

Social Policy and the British Imperial Legacy

Edited by James Midgley and David Piachaud

The British Empire covered three centuries, five continents and one-quarter of the world’s population. Its legacy continues, shaping the societies and welfare policies of much of the modern world. In this book, for the first time, this legacy is explored and analysed.

Chapter 4: Race, Inequality and Social Welfare: South Africa’s Imperial Legacy

Leila Patel

Subjects: social policy and sociology, comparative social policy


Leila Patel South Africa achieved its independence in 1994 after more than 300 years of colonialism and apartheid. The new democratically elected government inherited a racially divided society with over half of the Black population defined as poor. Poverty was most prevalent in rural areas (60 per cent) and among women and children, with more than half of female-headed households being poor (May, 1998; UNDP, 1999). These trends reflect the race-based geography of apartheid and race-based policies which have their origin in colonialism and imperialism. The new government also inherited a racially segregated welfare system that favoured the white elite through the provision of expansive social services and benefits to whites and a residual system for Blacks. While post-apartheid society is characterized by social transformation in key social sectors, the past legacy of race, class, gender and spatial inequality brought about by colonialism and imperialism persists and remains one of the country’s greatest social policy challenges. This chapter will show how the colonial and imperial experience from the early twentieth century and later apartheid period (1948–94), shaped the evolution of the nature, form and the content of social welfare policy in South Africa. Since the rise of public social provision is associated with industrialization and its concomitant social consequences, the chapter focuses on this period in South African history following the discovery of gold and diamonds that was the driver of industrialization in South Africa in the late nineteenth century. Although social welfare is broadly defined to include welfare...

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