This paper highlights the plight of black rural areas in South Africa, in which deep poverty and weak subsistence agriculture are embedded. The apartheid policy and its numerous measures are the first causes of such a situation. Besides, the existence of a relatively well-developed non-agricultural labour market also maintains productive agricultural activities at a low level. This paper attempts to contextualize those elements in the Eastern Cape province. At province level, the paper first provides the main features of poverty and livelihood systems. Then, typological approaches are used to better understand the socio-economic diversity of local livelihood systems, beyond generic statistics. The results show that diversity is a major trait of local livelihood systems. Pensions and remittances are the pillars of livelihood systems, whereas local off-farm job opportunities remain scarce. Farming activities, although widespread, form a significant source of cash income for a small proportion of households. The factors influencing such a diversity and the evolution of types are discussed. It is confirmed that rural areas in Transkei follow some major trends that have been identified at a global level: diversification of rural livelihood at household level, de-agrarianisation and de-peasantisation at community level.