Vulnerability and Indigence Assessment in South Africa. A Civil Society Emergency Response to COVID-19: A South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID) Transdisciplinary Study


Lulama Makhubela (ed)
Maureen Tong (ed)
Pali Pehohla (ed)
Thoko Mpumlwana (ed)


Covid-19 effect, vulnerable communities, gender rights, food security, socio-economic impact, governance, South Africa, South African Women in Dialogue, Sustainable development goals, African Studies, poverty, Human Rights, Service Delivery, Gender Studies, Transdisciplinary Studies, SAWID, Covid-19, Pandemic


This  (SAWID) Transdisciplinary Study is accompanied by a 16-page Executive Summary and a 58-page Annotated Bibliography, and spans six chapters.
Chapter One 
gives the contextual background of the transdisciplinary study convened by SAWID in response to COVID-19 emergency facing the vulnerable and indigent in South Africa. The Chapter highlights the stark adverse health challenge from a global and continental manifestation of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a cursory dipstick into South Africa as a point of departure. Through a short synopsis, the Chapter presents the complex disposition of the research emanating as a predominate health challenge with associated higher morbidity and mortality levels yet of humanitarian proportion. Additionally, this challenge led to unprecedented geo-political and socio-economic dynamics rooted in a quandary of inequality and gendered vulnerability and communities' marginalisation. The Chapter provides a brief landscape of  the context of COVID-19 casting a gender lens to elicit the nature of disparities to be addressed. Hereby, SAWID foregrounds the COVID-19 crisis through four Workstreams: Unpacking COVID-19; Social Protection; Food Crisis and Delivery Systems that comprised the core of the study. Underpinned by the Theory of Change with eclectic approaches takenfrom the Systems Thinking and Design Thinking methodologies, the Chapter briefly discusses the study's theoretical framing. This is followed by measures and tools and the instruments to address poverty and hunger, including the associated policy gaps. The study refers to each of the six Chapters' linkage to the overall goals as in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (AfSD) and the Agenda 2063: the Africa we want.
Chapter Two uses a feminist approach to unpack the socio-economic effects of COVID-19 in light of systems in place before and since the onset of the pandemic. Thus, the Chapter is linked to sustainable goals 3, 5, 8 and 10, linked to ensuring the health, gender equality and economic growth while addressing inequality. These systems are critiqued using the gendered lens to recommend areas needing further development to support women as part of the vulnerable and indigent communities. The Chapter answers the fundamental questions: What is the impact of COVID-19 cash transfers on South African women? What are the macro and microeconomic effects of COVID-19 on these women? Finally, the Chapter offers an overview to contrast gendered economic interventions and feminist economics in addressing COVID-19 in this context.
Chapter Three assesses whether the social protection measures provided by the State has reached the vulnerable and indigent in South Africa, and to what extent. The policies reviewed are not only related to social policy but also cover basic services. Thus, the Chapter is linked to sustainable development goals 1, 2, 6, 8 and 10; it touches on ending poverty and hunger while ensuring sustained water management, economic growth and inequality reduction. An analysis of whether these social protection measures resulted in self-reliance and sustainability instead of dependability is conducted with a specific emphasis on the pandemic's effect on these measures. The relevance of current social protection measures for women and children are also assessed critically to establish their effectiveness during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic in this country.
Chapter Four interrogates the current structure of South Africa's food system. In particular, it aims to identify the elements that compromise the national food system, whether the national policy framework has enabled an effective response to COVID-19 regarding food security and what is needed to make the country's food security policy framework more resilient. Consequently, the Chapter tackles sustainable goals 2, 12 and 15 as linked with ending hunger, ensuring sustainability in consumption and production, and sustainable land use. Finally, the Chapter offers a new framework to ensure food security to  cater for indigent and vulnerable groups.
Chapter Five examines current service delivery systems to determine their driving factors and future potential. The main question is, does the Government have efficient delivery systems to deliver services under emergency and disaster conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, within the Disaster Management Act No 57 of 2002? The Chapter addresses this by describing current delivery systems, showing their effectiveness and expounding how the Disaster Management Act supported poor groups. Specific measures intended for COVID-19 are outlined, and whether these were accessible to the vulnerable , given that various hindrances were experienced in this time. This Chapter addresses sustainable development goals 9 (sustainable industrialisation and innovation), 16 (promoting peace, inclusivity and justice for sustainable development) and 17 (global partnership). Finally, the Chapter used the case study method to acknowledge NGOs and civil society as an extension of the Government. Case study analysis signalled that the social contract between Government and society requires reinforcement through partnerships between civil society and the State.
Chapter Six gives a synthesis of all chapters in the Report. The Chapter provides study recommendations and policy implications across all the themes discussed in the various chapters and identifies possible future research areas.


  • Executive Summary
    Thoko Mpumlwana
  • Research Report
    (Chapters 1 - 6)
    Lulama Makhubela, Maureen Tong, Pali Pehohla
  • Annotated Bibliography
    Thembelihle Tshabalala, Lusanda Monale, Lulama Makhubela

Author Biography

Thoko Mpumlwana

Ms Thoko Mpumlwana is the Chairperson of the SAWID Board of Trustees

Photo collage of women speaking, in graduation gown, conferring and with the SAWID logo




August 18, 2021