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Second Inquiry Into Poverty

The late Alan Pifer, who was president of Carnegie Corporation from 1967 to 1982, had a vision of reversing, or at least addressing, the impact of that first Corporation study. He felt that Carnegie Corporation should do additional research into poverty in South Africa, this time incorporating blacks as well as whites. When Pifer made these decisions, there had been no serious investigation of South African poverty in many years, and sanctions against South Africa's apartheid regime had prevented the World Bank from doing any serious studies on the economy of the nation. As a result, apartheid's spin doctors had been able to maintain their claim that South Africa had a relatively healthy economy and that blacks were not as economically depressed as they were in other parts of Africa. The study Pifer initiated, conducted from 1982 to 1984, was known as the Second Carnegie Inquiry Into Poverty and Development in Southern Africa. Importantly, David Hamburg, who succeeded Pifer as the president of the Carnegie Corporation in 1982, enthusiastically supported the continuation of the poverty study and the development of legal resources for all South Africans (see below).

Carnegie Corporation did not define the target populations of the study or the specific definitions of poverty for the second inquiry. It was expected that people would define the meaning of poverty for themselves. However, to a large degree, though not explicitly stated, it became a study of black poverty in rural areas, as the rural black population was the least studied and most economically depressed. The research was directed by Francis Wilson, a labor economist at the University of Cape Town and the son of anthropologist Monica Wilson, who investigated the social conditions of South Africans in Pondoland in 1931, 1932, and 1934 and southern Africans generally from 1935 to 1938.

Wilson collaborated with Dudley Horner and others to investigate problems of poverty, and Carnegie underwrote the entire study. The Ford Foundation contributed money for the training of black interns in social-science techniques such as data collection and interviewing, and the group fanned out over the southern part of South Africa to gather data on poverty. Altogether more than 450 people were interviewed, and over 300 researchers presented findings at a concluding conference. The Second Inquiry Into Poverty was published as a book, Uprooting Poverty: The South African Challenge, coauthored by Francis Wilson and Mamphela Ramphele, a well-known physician, educator, and activist. This book attracted worldwide media attention and helped its audience understand the lies of apartheid proponents and the struggles of South Africans to overcome a legacy of poverty, disenfranchisement, and fear.

The inquiry found that black rural poverty was far more extensive and far more devastating than anyone, including experts like Francis Wilson, knew. The unanticipated findings were made partly because the Carnegie Corporation team included black interviewers with whom the interviewees felt free to discuss the obstacles they faced. Also, the investigators traveled to, and lived in, rural communities, collecting data that led to the current South African government's understanding of the importance of water resources. For example, in relation to just one of the many findings of the study, Francis Wilson describes how women carried water on their heads for 7 or 8 miles underneath power lines that stretch throughout South Africa and provide power for 60 percent of the rest of Africa. Yet in the incredibly impoverished areas the investigators studied, people did not have access to even the most basic necessities like running water. As a result, water management became a major policy issue for the new South African government.