Using data from a national living standards survey undertaken in late 1993, this paper disaggregates and explores the economics of livelihood generation and class in rural South Africa in an effort to contribute to the ongoing and vociferous debate in South Africa about poverty and its alleviation. Pursuant to the suggestion of participants in a recent participatory poverty assessment, this paper analyzes what might be termed the class structure of poverty. After exploring the range of claiming systems and livelihood tactics available in rural South Africa, the paper offers a first look at who the poor are by disaggregating the rural population into discrete livelihood strategy classes. Non-parametric regression methods are used to then estimate and graphically explore the nature of the livelihood mapping between endowments and real incomes. In addition to identifying those endowment combinations which map to consumption levels below the poverty line (the asset basis of poverty), the topography of the estimated livelihood mapping helps identify the constraints which limit household's ability to effectively utilize their assets and endowments. These results suggest that poverty is a matter of not only having few assets, but also of constraints which limit the effectiveness with which those assets are used, and poverty and livelihood policy needs to be designed accordingly.


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