Trading on a grant: Integrating formal and informal social protection in post-apartheid migrant networks
du Toit, Andries
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This paper describes the findings of in-depth qualitative case studies based research on how poor and marginalised people in post-apartheid migrant networks seek to ameliorate poverty and manage their vulnerability. It argues that the ways in which people make decisions regarding formal social grants and cash transfers, their utilisation and their indirect impacts need to be understood in the context of the pre-existing and underlying systems and practices of informal social protection (Bracking and Sachikonye 2006). These informal strategies are shaped by two key phenomena (du Toit and Neves 2008): first, they depend crucially on the complex, spatially extended, de- centred social networks created by domestic fluidity and porosity in an environment of continued migrancy. Second, these networks are partly constituted by - and provide the underpinnings for - deeply sedimented and culturally specific practices of reciprocal exchange. This paper shows how social grants are used in this context. A detailed consideration of the case study material illustrates how cash transfers allow poor and vulnerable people to make 'investments' in human, physical and productive capital. The paper argues that a crucial aspect of the impact of cash transfers lies in the way they allow the leveraging of resources within networks of reciprocal exchange. Cash transfers, instead of 'crowding out' private remittances, can be seen to enable households and individuals to negotiate about the distribution of scarce resources within spatially distributed networks. Social grants thus have an impact far beyond the particular groups targeted in official plans. Crucially, given the existence of unequal power relations and practices of exclusion and exploitation within the informal social protection arrangements, social grants often provide key resources for those who would otherwise be marginalised. At the same time, they have only limited utility in addressing the core dynamics that drive chronic poverty. Reducing structural poverty in South Africa requires measures that address the underlying problems of structural unemployment.