12 Ilana van Wyk by wulinqing


									Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

           “Tata ma chance”: On contingency and the Lottery in post-
                                                              apartheid South Africa

Since its inception in March 2000, the South African National Lottery has been treated as
both a developmental boon and as a dangerously exploitative new consumer product. In
both discourses the poor feature prominently; as recipients of Lotto largess and as its
most frequent victims. Although there are a number of explanations for why people buy
Lotto tickets in other parts of the world, the South African Lotto‟s popularity has largely
been ascribed to the deluded and financially illiterate millennial hopes of the desperately
poor. Based on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Durban during 2004/2005
and another eighteen months of research in Cape Town‟s townships in 2008/2010, this
paper puts paid to such interpretations by looking at the economic realities of „the poor‟.
Contrary to much of the policies aimed at protecting the poor from “financial risks from
which they were previously protected” (Rule & Sibanyoni 2000: 9), I contend that the
poor has never been protected from risk and that they have adapted enormously flexible
ways of dealing with the multiple contingencies that mark their lives. This flexibility often
translates into very modest investments that poor lottery players make in the Lottery,
both financially and in terms of hope. I suggest that interpretations of risky economic
behaviour stem from myopically Western and middle-class perceptions and fail to take
account of the multiple contingencies that mark the economic lives of 'the poor'.

Gambling, history and a divided nation
As a relative latecomer to the global Lotto industry, the South African government
launched a National Lottery on the 2nd of March 2000. It was a move that proved very
popular with South Africans as they spent more than R2.7 billion on Lottery tickets
within the first eight months of its launch. This figure currently hovers around the four
billion rand mark per year (National Lotteries Board Annual Reports 2006, 2007, 2008,
2009). To date, Gidani, the official Lottery operator, has granted 8 448 vendors licences
to sell lottery tickets nation-wide (www.nationallottery.co.za/retailers/retailers.asp,
14/05/2010). People can buy lottery tickets at their local corner shops, supermarkets and
post offices or over the Internet while the Lottery‟s game shows on television attract

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

large audiences. Apart from the proliferation of Lottery vendors and players, many legal
sport betting shops, bingo halls and casinos have also started to dot the South African
urban and semi-urban landscape.
            This presented a marked historical and political shift in the place that legal
gambling occupied in the daily lives of most South Africans. Apart from horse racing1,
successive colonial and apartheid governments prohibited gambling (Lőtter 1996: 193;
Rule & Sibanyoni 2000). Thus the Dutch East Indian Company outlawed gambling in
1789, while settlers in the Cape instituted an Art Unions Act (No. 28 of 1860)
prohibiting lotteries except for those run by art unions. In 1902 they extended the
prohibition on gambling with the Betting Houses, Gaming Houses and Brothels
Suppression Act (No. 36 of 1902) (Business Day 1992:3). Other provinces passed similar
bits of colonial legislation.
            Shortly after coming to power in 1948, the National Party denounced all
gambling as an “immoral” “evil” that undermined the work ethic of the population by
encouraging reliance upon luck rather than hard work and skill (Lotter 1994:192). Their
1965 National Gambling Act (no 15) was draconian in its prohibitions. However, the
apartheid government‟s “paternalistic attitude” (Lőtter 1996:193) to gambling was
tempered in favour of producing economic capital and legitimacy for its black homeland
states (Sallaz 2005; cf. Stern 1987:141). Based on the immense popularity of casinos in
the independent states of Lesotho and Swaziland during the 1960s (Sallaz 2005: 42), the
National Party proclaimed the Self Governing Territories Constitution Act in 1971,
allowing black „homeland‟ authorities in Transkei, Ciskei, Bophutatswana, and Venda to
legalise gambling in order to attract capital (Brand 1999; Hughey & Mobilia 1997).
Although black communities protested against this liberalisation, the homeland
authorities were sufficiently “buffered from civil society” (Sallaz 2009: 137; cf. Oomen)
and stood to gain from the enormous financial benefits that their license-granting powers
afforded (Sallaz 2009: 145-148). For their part, the National Party overlooked the racial
de-segregation, notorious striptease shows, pornography and prostitution at „homeland‟
casinos (Crush & Welling 1983; Lőtter 1996: 194) because they alleviated direct south
African financing of the homeland governments and symbolically upheld the fiction of
the political independence of the homelands (Sallaz 2009: 143-149). While the homeland
authorities benefited from casinos in their territories, these were wholly owned and

1   This legal quirk had its origins in gambling legislation dating back to 1673 (Rule & Sibanyoni 2000:1)

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

controlled by white business interests, notably Sol Kerzner‟s Sun International (Rule &
Sibanyoni 2000: 8; Sallaz 2009: 143-145).
        In order to augment their incomes, the Ciskei and Transkei authorities launched
state lotteries in 1984 (The State Lotteries Act, No. 14 of 1984) and 1989 respectively
(The Lotteries Decree, No. 14 of 1989). Both lotteries were poorly administered while
inadequate records were kept of the revenues (National Lottery Board (NLB) Annual
Report 2003: 5-6; NLB Annual Report 2004: 5). With respect to the Ciskei State Lottery,
the NLB‟s Annual Report (2004: 5) found that “a lack of documentation prevented any
conclusive findings except that the Lottery was abolished in the early 1990's and that the
assets were transferred to the Ciskei Revenue Fund”.

Gambling for Democracy
At the end of the 1980s, the National Party started to abolish some of its petty apartheid
laws and started to negotiate with previously banned political parties. Nelson Mandela‟s
release in 1990 marked the start of a process that eventually led to a democratic election
in 1994. In this period of political transition, provincial governments found themselves in
a legal and economic limbo. The apartheid state was virtually bankrupt while the
incorporation of former homelands into new provinces posed overwhelming
development challenges (refs). Furthermore, the legal discrepancies between the South
African Gambling Act of 1965 and the gambling laws of the former homelands posed
particular legal challenges (Carnelley 2001). It is in this context that the nascent province
of KwaZulu-Natal launched Operation Jumpstart in May 1992 to finance “upliftment”
projects for disadvantaged communities in its expanded jurisdiction. To this end, they
introduced a successful Lotto in the province (Robinson 2001; Ross 2001).
        Other provinces did not follow suit but were alarmed at the massive upsurge of
gambling „entrepreneurs‟ that exploited the legal loopholes in the transitional legal system
(Fisher & Schreuder 1994; Parliamentary Monitoring Group on Gambling 2001). Slot
machines and blackjack tables appeared in bars and restaurants, gambling parlours opened
in the suburbs while various charities advertised bingo, other lotteries and scratch cards.
Gambling was rife and seemed to have “mushroomed almost out of control” (Auret 2006).
It was widely estimated that there were between 2 000 and 4 000 illegal casinos and 150
000 illegal slot machines in operation across South Africa (Auret 2006; Erwin 2002;
Mabuza 2003; Wiehahn 1995). Pressure from religious and community groups, gambling
entrepreneurs and political leaders began to build for the state to put forward a unitary
national policy (Erwin 2002; Sallaz nd: 13).

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

         To this end, the state appointed two committees, the 1992 Howard Commission
and the 1995 Wiehahn Commission to make recommendations concerning a national
gambling industry. Both commissions found that the Gambling Act of 1965 no longer
reflected the “true moral viewpoint of the majority of South Africans” (Erwin 2002). They
recommended that Government should legalise gambling and institute a national lottery,
noting that this would create 100 000 jobs, stimulate other industries, lead to economic
growth, develop human capital and that, through taxation, gambling would raise state
revenue (Howard 1993; Wiehahn 1995). Politically, the commissions also recommended
that all gambling licenses should ensure the effective participation of historically
disadvantaged individuals. As the Minister of Trade and Industry later asserted, the
gambling industry was “one of the few industries in the whole country where [Black
Economic Empowerment (BEE) was] obtainable” (Erwin 2002; cf. Mabuza 2003;
National Lottery Media Centre 2001). The only negative effect that the two committees
identified was that personal savings and consumer spending on other goods would suffer
as individuals gambled with their discretionary income (Howard 1993; Wiehahn 1995).
         With the delay of the passage of a New Constitution in 1996, the National
Gambling Act in 1996 and the National Lotteries Act (No.57) in 1997, the nine
provincial governments passed their own legislation in the interim to control gambling in
their jurisdictions. This complicated the National Gambling Board‟s (NGB)2 task of
establishing a uniform legal framework on gambling (Carnelly 2001; Erwin 2002). In the
meantime, the KZN Lotto and the old Transkei Lotto continued to operate. While the
KZN Lotto raised a total of R896-million3 and seemed to have a positive public image
(Robinson 2001; Ross 2001), the Transkei Lotto was subject to a considerable amount of
criticism. Score-A-Lot (Pty) Limited, the company that operated the "video lottery
terminals" on behalf of the Transkei and now defunct Ciskei Lotteries Board, was in fact
running regular slot machines in illegal casinos (ECN 1999; Mpondwana 2000;
Parliamentary Monitoring Group on Gambling 2001). Since Score-A-Lot had a mandate
from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to run the Transkei Lotto, the
Eastern Cape Gambling Board could not shut them down (ECN 1999; Parliamentary
Monitoring Group on Gambling 2001). Score-a-Lot‟s success however saw many
members of the Eastern Cape Tavern Association investing in infrastructure that allowed

2 The NGB started off as the Lotteries and Gambling Board in 1994 but was renamed in 1998 (Erwin
3 Of this amount, R448-million (50%) was paid out in prizes, R345-million (38.5%)was paid out to charities

while R103-million went towards operational costs (Robinson 2001; Ross 2001).

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

them to have Limited Payout Machines (LPM) in their establishments. They hoped that
these LPMs would bring “economic growth to the townships” (Parliamentary
Monitoring Group on Gambling 2001).

Development and the introduction of a National Lottery
When the National Lotto was finally launched in March 2000, both the KwaZulu-Natal
and the Transkei Lotto were closed down (NLB Annual Report 2003; Ross 2001). The
National legislature were given exclusive power to regulate lotteries and sports pools
while the provincial legislatures were tasked with regulating casinos and other forms of
gambling4 (Carnelly 2001:3). At the time, the Minister of Trade and Industry, Alec Erwin,
praised the Lottery as “a tool for [national] progress, advancement and personal growth”
(National Lottery Media Centre; August 17, 2001). He made much of the Lottery‟s
potential to raise revenues, to contribute to the country‟s Reconstruction and
Development Plan (RDP) and to donate to good causes (Mabuza 2003). However, his
department insisted that the Lottery‟s contribution to good causes5 had to be dispensed
by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, an organisation that turned out to be
administratively bloated and highly inefficient (Robinson 2001; Ross 2001).
         Uthingo Pty Limited, the company that won the bid to run the National Lottery,
proved itself an industrious licence winner. Apart from its main lottery where
participants had to chose six numbers out of a possible 49, it also introduced “Iza Fast”
scratch cards in October 2000 (Parliamentary Monitoring Group on Gambling 2001) and
further supplemented the regular Lotto with its Lotto Plus game in November 20036
(Khan 2003: 4). However, Uthingo‟s attempts to introduce a daily lottery called Keno
(Kalideen 2003: 3) and to turn fahfee into a Lottery game (Krige 2010; cf. Ngqwebo 2003;
Mofokeng 2003) did not meet with the approval of parliament. Apart from these
setbacks and the continued criticism over the Distribution Fund‟s inefficiency (Peters
2007:6), Uthingo won many plaudits for its BEE credentials (70% of its ownership was
black). Its charismatic chief executive, Humphrey Khoza was the first black president of
the South African Chamber of Business, a doyen of BEE and an ordained priest. His
admirers asserted that, “When Khoza said the lottery was a licence to dream…[p]eople
believed him and started to buy tickets” (Radebe 2004).

4 The National Legislature set limits to the number of casino licences that could be issued (Carnelly 2001).
5 The Lotto had to pay 28% of its income to the National Lottery Distribution Fund (Peters 2007:6).
6 On buying a primary lottery ticket, punters could enter their numbers into a supplementary draw for

another R1 (Khan 2003: 4).

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

         In October 2006, Uthingo lost the bid to renew its license as lottery operator to
another BEE company7 called Gidani (Sapa 2006). A lengthy legal battle ensued in which
the Pretoria High Court decided that the Lottery Board‟s failure to adequately investigate
the shareholders in the bidding consortia left room for conflicts of interest. In particular,
questions were raised over the fact that ANC national executive committee members
Cyril Ramaphosa, Max Sisulu and Chris Nissen were key players in Gidani (Da Costa &
Carter 2007:1; Gordin 2007; Sapa 2006; Sapa 2007) while the Minister of Education,
Naledi Pandor, had interests in Uthingo (Da Costa & Carter 2007:1). When Uthingo‟s
licence expired in March 2007, the legal battle was still raging and the Lottery was
suspended until October 2007 (Anon 2007; Mbanjwa 2007:1) when the courts finally
awarded Gidani the licence (Anon 2007; National Lottery annual report 2007/8: 4-5, 14).
The minister of Trade and Industry and the Lottery Board insisted that they did not
regard the ANC members as political office bearers under the Lotteries Act (Sapa
2007b). Gidani upped the revenue paid to the Lottery Distribution Fund to 34% of
revenues and gave government 20% shareholding (Anon 2009; Peters 2007:6). They paid
6% of revenues as retailer commission, took 10% as operational costs and spent 50% of
sales on prizes8 (Gerretsen 2007:2). Gidani continued to run the games that Uthingo
initiated but added Sportstake, a soccer pools game, more scratch cards (Gerretsen
2007:2) and the Powerball game. In April 2009, Gidani also announced that its jackpots
would roll over until they were won (Anon 2009: 10; Anon 2009: 7).
         Like its predecessor however, Gidani came under fire for the inefficiency with
which it distributed money to good causes, and especially to the poor (Editor 2009:20;
Howroyd 2009:20; Kamaldien 2009: 1,4; Vos 2009:4). Much was also made of the
Lottery Board members‟ large salaries (Kamaldien 2009: 1,4; Vos 2009:4). Gidani
responded to the negative publicity by saying that they didn‟t have the authority to make
grants (Vos 2009:4), that NGOs were “irresponsible for relying on Lotto for operational
costs” (Naidoo 2008; Naidoo 2008b) and for “doing less and less in the form of fund-
raising” (Peters 2007:6) while Gidani‟s good intentions were essentially restrained by its
need to comply to various laws and government interests (Naidoo 2008).

Poor beneficiaries and poor victims
Over the course of 40 years, various South African governments thus justified the

7 On their website, Gidani claims to be “a 89.2% Black Majority owned private company”
www.gidani.co.za/about_us.html, 14/05/2010.
8 These figures are very close to international practice for Lotteries in other parts of the world (Clotfelter &

Cook 1991: 25).

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

legalisation of gambling in terms of the economic development of black communities
and as a way to undermine upsurges in illegal gambling (Erwin 2002). On both fronts,
raising state revenues and undermining illegal gambling, the South African government‟s
actions resonated with similar trends in the rest of the world. Since the late 1950s,
various international governments shifted their attention from the prohibition to the
regulation of gambling. Many states are today reliant on lotteries and gambling taxes for
public finance (Clotfelter & Cook 1991; Per Binde 2005: 468-471; cf. Kaplan 1984: 91-
        There are numerous critics of this approach to the generation of public revenues.
Many of them point out that governments are effectively encouraging vulnerable people,
most notably the poor (Brenner & Brenner 1990; Wisman 2006; Freund & Morris 2005;
Guryan & Kearney 2008; Lang & Omori 2009; Haisley et al 2008; Nyman et al 2008) and
less educated (Clotfelter & Cook 1989b, Rogers & Webly 2001; Forrest & Gulley 2009),
to gamble. They often assert that gambling is habit-forming and addictive and as such
raises public health issues (Per Binde 2005:470).
        The South African government‟s treatment of the Lotto has been rather
schizophrenic. It‟s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), under whose jurisdiction
the Lottery falls, often clashes with the Department of Social Welfare and parliament as
they push for ever more lottery games. Although the DTI frequently lauds the lottery as
a means to generate money for the poor (Auret 2006), as a “tool for nation-building” and
a means to “personal empowerment” (Erwin 2001), its aim of channelling disposable
income from the upper and middle-classes to the "poorest of the poor" has been
unsuccessfully realised. Various studies have shown that most of the country‟s lottery
players live below the official poverty line and play the Lotto regularly (Collins 2000;
Collins & Barr 2000; Rule & Sibanyoni 2000; Sallaz nd).
        In 2003, the Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing at the University of Cape
Town publicised research that indicated that “the lower-income levels in society [were]
making big sacrifices to play" and that those sacrifices were increasing. They asserted that
43% of players earned less than R2 000 (at the time, about £125) a month and spent on
average R84 per month on the Lotto (Power 2003; Smith 2003:3). Whenever there was a
rollover, these amounts increased so “dramatically” that they negatively impacted on
South African Breweries‟ sales. The institute‟s director lamented that, "All those who buy
tickets say they 'play' the lotto. It's a game, a fantasy. And the poorer you are, the more
you believe your only chance of getting rich is through the lotto" (Power 2003). The

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

government‟s Department of Welfare quickly asserted that it was unacceptable for the
poor to „play‟ with their welfare grants and added its objection to a proposed daily
Lottery to the complaints of the Muslim Judicial Council and the Council of Churches
(Smith 2003:3; cf. Anon 2001:3; Leeman 2001:5).
         In the wake of this protest, the Minister of Trade and Industry and spokespeople
for the gambling industry retorted that the Unilever study showed that consumer
spending on gambling was dwarfed by other relatively new industries such as the mobile
phone, health and security industries (Erwin 2002; Mabuza 2003; Mabuza 2003b; Power
2003). The Lottery Board and the DTI‟s proposed daily Lottery was however defeated in
parliament when the New National Party, the United Democratic Movement and the
Western Cape‟s premier objected that it would only exacerbate a “vicious cycle of
poverty” while the Lottery Board had not proven its ability to channel money to
deserving causes (National Assembly 25/09/2002, 26/09/2002, 27/09/2002; Anon
2003; Kalideen 2003: 3; Sapa 2003).
         Eight months later, Uthingo launched its Lotto Plus game to a similar chorus of
protests. The minister of social development asserted that "R1 more is R1 too many" for
people on social welfare grants and accused Uthingo of targeting very poor areas by
creating “illusions and hopes that people will win”. He called for “aggressive public
education [to make] people sensitive to the risks involved” (Hooper-Box 2003). His
response was very different to the Minister of Finance‟s quip that the Lottery was “a new
form of tax” that was mainly for people “who do not understand mathematics” (speech
at HSRC, 29/2/2000 in Rule & Sibanyoni 2000:8)
         In 2006, the National Centre for the Study of Gambling in South Africa (NCSG)
published a report that claimed that problem gambling in South Africa was on the
decline and that even the poor were gambling “sensibly”. One of the study‟s authors,
Peter Collins, said that the results offered “some measure of relief” when taken against
the high levels of anxiety around the negative consequences of gambling in the country.
He attributed the positive results to the National Responsible Gambling Programme‟s
(NRGP) education and public awareness initiatives and blamed problem gambling on
“ignorance and poor life management skills” (Caelers 2006:4; Collins 2006). The results
were consistent with research undertaken by the Bureau of Market Research at the
University of South Africa for the National Gambling Board (Caelers 2006:4; Casasa

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

        In 2008, amidst another public backlash at the Lotto‟s failure to distribute
enough money to worthy causes and to “making the poor poorer” (Editor 2009: 20;
Howroyd 2009: 20), the DTI admitted that it was concerned with the proliferation of
betting activities in South Africa. The DTI confessed that it might have been “too
liberal” over gambling and subsequently set up commissions to study the gaming
industry (Khanyile 2008) and the impact that the greater accessibility of gambling had on
the poor (DTI Pretoria, 12/05/2010; Khanyile 2010:18). It was publicly at least moving
away from its confident focus on the gambling industry‟s job-creation and income
generation potential to a greater focus on gambling‟s detrimental social impact.
        For their part, poor people have contested these constructions and resisted
various proposed restrictions on their ability to gamble (cf. Khanyile 2010:18). They
insist on their “rights” to participate in the National Lottery and to go to legal casinos.
This insistence has echoes in the Wiehahn report (1996:4) which identified the “rational”
and “voluntary” choice to wager money as a basic right that the apartheid government
denied its citizens. In a similar vein, Mr Humphrey Khoza claimed that every South
African has a human right to play the Lottery and that a call for the restriction of gambling
to the upper and middle classes was unconstitutional (September 26, 2003).
        Apart from the political rights-based discourse, many of my interviewees were
also adamant that powerful people were conspiring to exclude them from these forms of
gambling because they wanted to keep the winnings to themselves. They often
mentioned that the Lotto was run by a tight-knit group of “black diamonds” and
“tenderpreneurs” who were trying to protect their “business” of “chowing [eating] the
money alone” (Laurence 07/04/2009; cf. Xolile 21/02/2009). This suspicion has
parallels with other popular discourses over the unequal distribution of capital in post-
apartheid South Africa.

It‟s all in the brain: Gambling, freedom and addiction
Surprisingly, very few of the Lottery‟s opponents have noted that the National Centre for
the Study of Gambling (NCSG)‟s 2006 study showed a net increase of 10%, to 82%, in
people who played the Lotto regularly and a decrease in people who never gamble (cf.
NCSG 2007, 2008, 2009). The NCSG study also confirmed that more than 70% of
people in the lowest income groups played the Lottery, that the average spend on Lotto
tickets was R81 per month and that black people experience more “problems” with
gambling than other groups (see Caelers 2006:4; Collins 2006). Their data was in fact not
much different from the Unilever study and confirmed the trends identified in the earlier

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

study. However, the theoretical emphases of the two research centres are widely
divergent. Thus the NCSG‟s economic point of departure assumes that rational actors
engage in the Lottery as a voluntary act of consumer behaviour. Their assumption is that
the Lottery is a fun activity and that its participants are paying for the hope of winning
and the anticipation that accompanies this (cf. Forrest et al 2002; Lam 2007; Miyazaki
         In order to determine the degree to which Lottery participants are freely engaging
in this consumer activity, the NCSG‟s surveys are based on twenty Gamblers
Anonymous questions. Based on the „normal‟ responses they got to these questions, the
NCSG asserted that people were gambling sensibly; in the absence of strong evidence of
addiction, they viewed the Lotto as just another consumer product (cf. Clotfelter & Cook
1991: 10-11). In fine economic tradition, the study makes no value judgements about the
ways in which its rational respondents spent their money. Indeed, Collins has frequently
lambasted the opponents to the Lottery as “patronising”, “Calvinistic” killjoys (Oct 2008;
DTI Pretoria, 12/05/2010).
         In their attempts to prove that people were participating in the Lottery of their
own free will, the NCSG has also branched out to studies of cognition. The head of the
NCSG, Prof Don Ross and his team published a book called “Midbrain Mutiny: The
Picoeconomics and Neuroeconomics of Disordered Gambling” in 2008. The book traces
gambling disorders and addictions to neuro-scientific bases and confirms the Collins
study; very few people have a gambling „problem‟ in South Africa. In this regard, Ross
(2008) predicted that his research will one day lead to the development of a “pill for
problem gamblers”. The NCSG thus reduced problem gambling to a psychological
problem or neurological disease of inappropriate economic impulse control. The seat of
this problem then lies in the human brain which researchers can access through science
and psychology.
         In many respects, the NCSG‟s research echoes the Wiehahn Report of 1996. In
it, Judge Wiehahn argued that the choice to wager money was voluntary, rational
(Wiehahn 1996:4) and that most “normal” people gambled for fun. Wiehahn (1996:68)
asserted that the state should not interfere with the “gambler's freedom to gamble” just
because of a small portion of the population who suffered from psychological
abnormalities (Wiehahn 1996:61-62). In the report, people who wagered more than they
could afford were not seen as victims of unscrupulous gambling operators or of the state
(cf. Clotfelter & Cook 1991) but as slaves of their own “inner urges” (Wiehahn, 1996:61-

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

62). According to Ross (2008), problem gamblers in South Africa‟s “urges” proved to be
very resistant to current therapies- more so than drug addicts.

Educating Lottery consumers
Unlike the Wiehahn report however, the NCSG‟s policy recommendations seem to
suggest that “normal” people, and especially poor black people, gamble for reasons other
than „fun‟ but that their freedom to choose among alternative consumer products is
hampered by their ignorance and lack of information. In this regard, the NCSG acts as
the National Responsible Gambling Programme‟s (NRGP)9 research arm and informs
that body‟s policy advice to the National Gambling Board10. In this capacity, the NRGP
focuses almost exclusively on “financial literacy” education programmes to counter
problem gambling. Although the NCSG has not released research findings on the degree
to which the poor gamble due to their supposed ignorance, their policy
recommendations would indicate that they believe this to be a „solvable‟ factor in the
problem gambling matrix.
        Given South Africa‟s history of Bantu Education and the NCSG‟s finding that
black people spent more than they could afford on gambling (Caelers 2006:4), the NRGP
has focused much of their work on poor black people. They have been instrumental in
the introduction of new curriculum components in South Africa‟s schools, most notably
teaching high school children about the dangers of gambling and about their probabilities
of winning different gambling games. The NRGP has also extended their financial
education projects to school teachers and to adult beneficiaries of social grants and
pensioners. In these projects, they “alert the public to the myths and facts about
gambling activities of all kinds”. Their training manuals and workshops encourage people
to “wise up to responsible gambling”, and encourage “Seniors [to] play smart”, and
pupils to “Taking Risks Wisely” (NRGP website). In these projects, the main starting
point is that people gamble “irresponsibly” because they are ignorant of their chances of
winning and because they do not know how to budget their monthly income effectively.
This assertion undermines the NCSG‟s value neutral studies by focusing on discretionary

9 The NRGP was created in 2000 as a public/private sector initiative and is exceptionally well funded
(most casinos in SA voluntarily pay them 0.01% of their takings).
10 The National Gambling Board was established in 1996 in terms of the National Gambling Act, Act No

33 of 1996 to oversee “matters relating to casinos, gambling, betting and wagering and [to promote]
uniform norms and standards in relation to gambling throughout South Africa”. This act was repealed on
01 November 2004 by the National Gambling Act, 2004, (Act No 7 of 2004). The SA Advisory Council on
Responsible Gambling (SAACREG), a national forum and policy advisory body created by the National
Gambling Board oversees the NRPG.

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

incomes rather than the rationality of actor choice. The NRGP then aims to get people
to gamble with their discretionary incomes rather than with money earmarked for food,
accommodation, transport and education.
         In its emphases and scope, the NCSG/ NRGP shares many characteristics with
Finmark Trust11, an independent trust devoted to “make financial markets work for the
poor in Africa” through research and policy development (Finmark Trust 2008:1-16).
There is also some overlap in the experts that both organisations consult. Both
organisations study their respective „problem‟ areas from an economic and psychological
perspective, explaining (mainly) black people‟s behaviour in terms of excessive desires,
pathology or ignorance (cf. interviews Oct 2008; Finmark Trust conference report 2008;
Finmark Trust 2008; Collins & Barr 2001; Collins 2003). Their remedies for excessive
gambling (in the case of NRGP) and an inability to access or optimise participation in
financial markets (Finmark Trust) are remarkably similar and focus almost exclusively on
“financial literacy” education.
         Thus Finmark trust advises it‟s many corporate clients to spend millions of Rands
on workshops and printed booklets to educate their presumably financially illiterate clients.
The resultant booklets have titles such as “Managing your money” (ABSA), “The self-help
guide for eezi financial planning for South Africans” (African Bank), “The self-help
approach to consumer problems whereby [sic] incorporated personal budgeting and
money management (Telkom, African Bank, Spar), “Bubomi- an activity booklet”12, all
centred on teaching people how to budget their money. The implicit assumption in all of
these is that once the poor learned to budget, save and use financial products, i.e. when
they become “responsible consumers”, their lives would dramatically change. Ignorance
thus lies at the basis of poverty and debt spirals.

Gambling amongst the poor
Apart from evidence that people do not gamble less when they know more about their
odds of winning (Williams & Connoly 2006) and that gamblers often “switch off” rational
decision-making when they gamble (Sevigny & Ladoucer 2003), the NRGP and Finmark
Trust‟s emphasis on education is based on a number of flawed conceptions about the
„economic‟ lives and motivations of those they wanted to educate. As such, both

11 A public-private initiative funded by the United Kingdom‟s Department for International Development
(DFID)that aims to optimise the participation of the poor in South African financial markets.
12 This interest in financial education was not spontaneous but has its roots in the Credit Act, which forced

financial institutions to spend 0.2% of their income after tax on educating their clientele.

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

organisations assume ignorance and excessive new greed, fuelled by political liberation, as
prime economic movers in gambling behaviour.
           In the first place, the “culture of immediate gratification” (Finmark conference
2008) that supposedly fuels an upsurge of gambling activities in post-apartheid South
Africa is not new. To a large extent, the government, research bodies and religious
organisations‟ current concerns over the effects of gambling on poor black people
continues colonial and apartheid discourses on “native gambling” (Francis & Lubbe
1999; Hellman 1940; Krige 2010; Phillips 1938; Longmore 1956; Strijdom, Schurink &
van Der Burgh 1980). Despite successive governments and other organisations‟ most
earnest entreaties and best efforts to clamp down on gambling, historical records contain
numerous references to the longstanding and enthusiastic fervour with which South
Africa‟s working classes have gambled (Chanock: 57; Crush 1994; Delius & Glaser 2002;
Kauffman 2004). From 17 th and 18th century slaves at the Cape (Ross 1983:7,58,79) to
19th century miners on South Africa‟s gold and diamond fields (Van Onselen, 1982; Van
Onselen 2007) to early 20th century amakholwa (Christian converts) who invested vast
amounts in crude pyramid schemes13 (La Hausse 1992) to apartheid township residents
(Bozzoli, 1991; Dugmore, 1993; Longmore, 1956), South Africans living on the margins
of privilege have long been keen „gamblers‟.
           Very little anthropological research focuses on gambling in South Africa. However,
a host of anthropologists have mentioned it in their ethnographies of working class „black‟
and „coloured‟ people. In Mayer (1971:188)‟s Townsmen or Tribesmen, he mentions that dice
playing was a favourite pastime of Xhosa gangs and tsotsis in the city. Pamela Reynolds
(1989: 56, 57, 98, 168) noted that gambling was among the top nine things that children
amused themselves with in Crossroads during the 1980s. She asserted that card and
gambling games helped children to classify and order the environment in the face of the
loss of traditional ways of doing so (Reynolds 1989: 86). Schapera (1969) described
gambling in the context of the disruptive influence of a money economy among the Kgatla
while Niehaus (2000) described gambling as one of the deviant activities that
schoolchildren engaged in. Countless others refer to gambling as a male pastime in shebeens,
in migrant hostels and in places where black men congregated (e.g Pirie & Silva 1986;
Ramphele; Ross 1983; Ross 1999:55). Many of these shebeens and gambling dens were run
by women (Bozzoli 1991; Feinstein 2005: 50; Verhoef 2001: 259-296).

13   These pyramid schemes were known as umholiswano (People‟s Banks) (La Hausse 1992: 483).

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

       Secondly, the ubiquity of gambling activities amongst poor people in South
Africa‟s townships caution against treating the Lottery or casino gambling as exceptional
instances where people wager on an unknown outcome. Unrestrained and „risky‟ informal
gambling is widespread, multiform and plays a significant part of daily life in most informal
settlements. The “BEE‟s” (rich black men) in the township are well known for the
enormous stakes at their card games. It was widely rumoured that the owner of Mzoli‟s, a
famous shebeen frequented by European tourists (amongst a string of other businesses)
liked to put R100 000 on the table. Prospective gambling partners have to equal his bet in
order to join the game. My interviewees claimed that millions of Rands were won and lost
in these games and that the participants showed up under heavy guard as they carried the
sacks of cash into the venue. No one knew for certain where these games were played but
quite a few of my interviewees claimed to know a “security” that guarded the men while
the game was in progress. Whether factually true or not, these rumours point to a general
acceptance that everyone gambles, even when they don‟t need the money.
       This assertion was borne out by the enormous diversity of gamblers and gambling
games in Cape Town. Groups of young men and criminal gangs regularly play dice in some
shebeens and on street corners. For the most part, these games were aimed at the
redistribution of money in a tight-knit group (cf. Mitchell 1988; Scott 1991; Wagner 1998;
Woodburn 1982), with many a participant stabbed or shot for leaving the game before
everyone agreed that it was over. Women of all ages play large sums of money on “calling
cards” and umjiqka, card games similar to „snap‟ where each player bets on the outcome of
every upturned card. Just before Christmas, the stakes in umjiqka games in Kayalitsha
increase significantly as women gamble feverishly to secure a big pot of money for home
improvements, gifts, drinks and festive foods. Some women bet up to R500 per card. A
plethora of other card games draw enthusiastic crowds to the intimate spaces of people‟s
living rooms and back yards over weekends.
       There are also sporadic instances where people bet on illegal dog and rooster
fights, soccer games and WWF-style wrestling matches. Recently, several betting syndicates
have also sprung up around the illegal hunting of game for muthi purposes in the Cape‟s
nature reserves. People place bets on specific hunting dogs and their likelihood of making
a kill or taking down an animal (Lewis 2010:3)
       Schoolteachers often complain that primary school children from as young as
seven play “spin” (betting on head/ tails as coin is tossed) during classes. Apart from the
distraction this offers in lessons, many children lose their lunch money in this way. High

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

school children continue to play spin but often move on to faster, higher-stake dice games,
often in the presence of more experienced older men outside the school gates (cf.
Reynolds 1989: 56, 98, 168). Here, young children would often join the onlookers and
would make relentless fun of the losers. Enterprising high school students would form
secret partnerships in these games and would help each other during the game, preferably
without the other participants‟ knowledge. In order to participate in these dice games, the
children would pilfer small amounts of cash from the change they would get whenever
their parents sent them to the local spaza shops. Older children would also rob younger
ones of their lunch money for this purpose.
        Stokvels (rotating credit associations), usually geared to promoting informal savings,
regularly organise prize draws, bucket games (where the participants have to flip a coin
into a cup placed at the bottom of a water-filled 20 gallon drum) and raffles. Churches and
other social groups also use lotteries and prize draws to generate money. Local
supermarkets, spaza shops and other businesses also frequently advertise prize draws and
try to attract new customers with large jackpots and attractive prizes. Every local
newspaper also offers their readers the opportunity to win money, cars, vacations and
consumer goods through their scratch cards and through expensive SMS competitions.
        The ubiquity of mobile phones in the townships has expanded the reach of
gambling operators and placed gambling opportunities literally in the hands of anyone with
a mobile phone. Thus almost every one of my interviewees had entered Vodacom‟s
competition to win a BMW14 and continue to SMS their nine letters into the operator‟s
weekly R1 million draw, at R2.50 per entry. They also spend considerable sums of money
on entering other SMS competitions like the Childrens‟ Trust‟s “Winikhaya” (R7.50 per
entry) competition and on television game shows where the SMSes cost up to R25 per
entry. In the wake of these SMS competitions, an overabundance of mobile phone
advertising businesses have sprung up to offer customers the opportunity to play simulated
roulette, one-arm jack and scratch-card type games, often with offers of real prize money
(often „paid out‟ as airtime credits). These mobile phone games are however not confined
to mobile phone operators and gaming businesses. „Respectable‟ businesses have also
turned to raffles and lottery-type competitions in their bid to attract customers. First
National Bank, for instance, ran a SMS campaign which offered its customers the
opportunity to win a “million-a-month”.

14The National Gambling Board took First National Bank, the Children‟s Trust and Vodacom to court for
running illegal lotteries with their respective million-a-month account, their „winikhaya‟ and BMW
competitions (National Lottery annual report 2007/8: 6).

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

Gambling as work
Thirdly, although much of the literature agrees with the NRPG‟s depiction of gambling as
a leisure activity outside of the „real‟ economic sphere, there is increasing evidence that
working class people do not, as the Department of Welfare and the Unilever director
insisted, “play” with their money. As such, they often do not view gambling as mere „fun‟
or as a leisure consumer product. Again, such local perceptions have historical and cultural
roots. Thus the early amakholwa‟s investments in umholiswano (People‟s Banks) (La Hausse
1992: 483) were intimately tied to their material expectations of their new faith, to their
efforts to establish a distinctive group identity and to the material conditions under which
their pastors had to make a living (La Hausse 1992). Similarly, gambling in South Africa‟s
township shebeens constituted an important part of women‟s economic survival skills in
unwelcoming urban areas during apartheid (Bozzoli 1991; Feinstein 2005: 50; Verhoef
2001: 259-296). Other studies have shown that it was not only black working-class people
who viewed gambling as an income-generating activity and a form of „business‟ (Hellman
1940; Phillips 1938; Longmore 1956) but that dog-racing in poor white neighbourhoods in
Johannesburg was also regarded as a “means of livelihood” (Krige 2010). Krige (2010)‟s
recent study of fahfee, an illegal numbers lottery with long historical roots in the
Johannesburg area, show that both runners and players viewed the game as a legitimate
economic activity that allowed participants to accumulate money (cf. Matyu 2008).
        Beyond the economic viability of gambling businesses, some social scientists have
also pointed out that gambling fulfilled an important political function too. For instance,
Coloured gamblers in Johannesburg viewed their gambling activities as a defiant political
challenge to the racist capitalism of apartheid (Dugmore 1992, 1993) and as an important
marker of their class identity (Dugmore 1990).
        In my own research in Cape Town, large numbers of unemployed men play
dominoes and pool for money, with many of them claiming that it is their only form of
income. Several of my male interviewees plied their skills at the pool hall or in the shebeen in
order to buy necessities such as food. Some of these games are played with matchsticks for
relatively small stakes, like a plate of food at the nearest shisa nyama (informal stall that sells
barbequed meat) or a couple of beers. Others are “serious” events in which people wager
large sums of money on the outcome of a game. Domino and pool players often
emphasised their skills and experience while effectively denying the statistical probabilities
of them drawing good tiles or „shooting‟ first. The majority of them claimed that a skilful

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

player could play himself out of a tight spot by relying on his experience and almost
preternatural ability to read the game.
        As games of skill, people could „work‟ at a specific game and „earn‟ a living. Even
the mobile phone lotteries were frequently viewed as games of skill, with many
interviewees pointing out that people who phoned in to television shows often lost
because they gave the wrong answers. They also spent many of their free airtime minutes
on repetitively texting answers to competitions, pointing out that this „work‟ would
translate into winnings. My interviewees were sceptical about winners in the newspapers
and on television who claimed that they had only sent a single entry into a competition.
Many of them mentioned that the guy who won the Vodacom BMW competition had
texted over R50 000‟s worth of airtime to win the car and must have been texting
“fulltime” to get that number of texts to the competition.
        My interviewees also insisted that the owners and organisers of various gambling
games were entrepreneurs and were just trying to “make a business”. In betting on three-
cap gambling (where a hustler hides a pea or little stone under one of three containers,
shuffles them around and then makes the punter guess where the pea is) for instance,
punters were said not to be taking a “chance” but in engaging the owner in a contest of
skill. People similarly viewed poker and a variety of card games as contests and dismissed
the importance of the supposedly random way in which cards are dealt. Although a
number of my interviewees, notably the Born Again Christians, cast moral opprobrium on
people who drank and frequented places where others “gambled”, few of them cast
aspersions on the owners of gambling establishments, often claiming it was just a
“business”. They similarly viewed „sober‟ liquor shop and shebeen owners as respectable

Local definitions of gambling
In the fourth place, the NRGP‟s definition of gambling does not stroke with their target
audience‟s own definitions and understandings of what gambling is. As such, I have
already shown that the NRGP‟s definition of gambling as a leisure activity “strictly
demarcated from the everyday world around it” (Reith 1999:1) has little relevance to the
realities of township life. Gambling is rife, wide-spread and is frequently viewed as a
business rather than leisure activity. But there is another aspect of the NRPG‟s definition
of gambling that is at odds with local perceptions, namely to classify activities whose
outcomes are premised on random or „chance‟ occurrences as gambling. This emphasis
on chance or risk is a historical product of discursive processes in the West and of

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

changes within the Western economic tradition itself (Reith 1999: 14-23). To a large
extent, such a definition overlooks the situational and social definitions of gambling in
South Africa‟s townships. Researchers at the NCSG have referred to indigenous
explanations of excessive gambling as a form of mysticism and asserted that the NCSG
was not interested in the business of “belief”. They preferred to find more rational
explanations for problem gambling and were justifiably excited about the “cutting-edge”
cognitive studies at the centre (Oct 2008).
        In my interviews with Born Agains for instance, the majority of them asserted
that they didn‟t gamble but often admitted to playing the Lottery and participating in a
variety of other lotteries. They explained that people only “gambled” at places where a
lot of time was spent in repetitive gambling acts such as spinning the wheel, rolling the
dice or pulling the one-arm slot machines in casinos. The fact that people generally spent
very little time actually buying Lotto tickets and that the results of the Lotto were delayed
beyond the immediate situation of buying tickets meant that many of my interviewees
didn‟t see it as gambling.
        They also asserted that gambling was a problem activity in which only a few people
participated. Since “everyone” played the Lottery, it was not a form of gambling. This
reasoning is also common in other parts of the world (see Casey 2006 on the UK; Lange
2001 on US students).
        In the townships gamblers were also portrayed as people who stayed in one place
for long periods of time playing „uncommon‟ games. As such, slot- and limited payout
machines were not normally found in township shebeens, bars or other businesses. People
who wanted to play these machines had to travel to casinos such as Grand West in Cape
Town or to the Suncoast Casino in Durban North. Some of the tote shops in both cities‟
centres also had limited payout machines in their back parlours. In most cases, people had
to use public transport to get to places where “real” gambling activities and machines were
found. And even in cases where they didn‟t, as in Langa which is less than 5km from
Grand West casino, people imagined these places as enormously hard to get into. Many of
my interviewees said that casinos were mainly for “whites” and that they wouldn‟t know
what to do in such places. Despite this conceptual distance from casinos, many stories
circulated about old people who went to casinos out of boredom, only to lose their whole
pension cheques. On the one hand, these bankrupt pensioners were described as victims
of their ignorance, with many people pointing out that old people were often illiterate and
too trusting. On the other hand, people often described these pensioners as selfish

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

„gamblers‟ who didn‟t think of their many dependents or the family members who had to
help them out when they were in financial difficulties. For similar reasons, many people
described dice-players as „gamblers‟.

Limits to desire: witchcraft and gambling
The Western subject-centred discourse of economics portrays the unexplained gambling
and excessive spending behaviours of people in terms of a competition of individual
desires and will, making desire the “constitutive feature of modern subjectivity”
(Margolis 2001 on depictions of Anglo-American alcoholics at the turn of the 20th
century). However, in my research, many people defined gambling in terms of
inappropriate social behaviour, often caused by external agents. In the South African
context, possession and witchcraft narratives reveal the limits of desire and suggest the
need for a non-psychological and non-contractual way of thinking about the self. As
such, bewitched gamblers are often not defined by the depth of their desires but by their
       In this regard, many of my interviewees described “problem gamblers” as victims
of witchcraft or of the overwhelming powers of other players who used strong muthi in
their vicinity. In these instances, my interviewees seldom concentrated on the gambler‟s
obsessive behaviour or his wilful actions. Instead, they often used a particular person‟s
disastrous gambling behaviour as a starting point for a long explanation of witchcraft
more broadly. Thus Eirie spoke about a local middle-aged man who would refuse to
leave the dice game, not even to eat or relieve himself, for days on end. The poor man‟s
wife and children had to constantly carry food to the spot where the men played while
his little son had to empty the glass bottles he urinated in. Apart from this hardship, the
family was also plagued by unexplained illnesses and deaths while the man‟s once-
successful shisa-nyama business was virtually bankrupt within a week “for no reason”.
Some township residents also saw strange lights outside the accursed family‟s shack. The
man‟s gambling then was caused by the same witchcraft that destroyed the rest of his
family and, Eirie mused, would probably consume the poor man totally.
       Being in the vicinity of someone who used strong muthi was equally dangerous.
The dice players I spoke to often admitted that they would only join a game once they
convinced themselves that their potential fellow players were not using muthi, even if they
were using it themselves. They were especially careful of men who touched their pockets
or who shouted too loudly- certain evidence that the suspected player was activating the
ingwaro muthi by spitting it out of their mouths. The problem, many of my interviewees

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

complained, was that people who used strong muthi were also invincible and
undetectable. Thus it was often only once you were “caught” in a game that you realised
that a player had unusually “strong dice”. There are many stories of people zombified by
such games, driven to bankruptcy and unable to move until the witch sated his appetite.
A few of my interviewees were lucky enough to escape such situations and described the
strong pull they felt at the time and the superhuman strength it required to break free.
Two of them never played dice again.
        Some of my interviewees, especially the ones that went to prosperity gospel
churches such as the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and the Assemblies of
God, also described how people infected by demons were forced to gamble their money
away. My friends explained that the demon “took over” its host‟s body in such moments
and that the host was therefore often unaware of its presence. Of my interviewees who
had gone through this experience and who had been exorcised, almost all remarked that
they couldn‟t remember anything about the time when the demons presumably resided in
them. From the nexus of a body, the demons were then said to not only block the flow
of God‟s blessings into the unfortunate person‟s life but also to actively force them into
destructive behaviour.
        It is in the context of my interviewees‟ permeable bodies that the weaknesses of
the economic theories on gambling are illustrated.

Free money and work
The negative social evaluations of gamblers in South Africa‟s townships had little to do
with ideas about the supposed link between hard work and „decent‟ earnings that set
gambling apart from „work‟ in the West (Reith 1999; cf. Sahlins 1996). Indeed, a variety
of respected social institutions, most notably prosperity gospel and African independent
churches, sanctioned people‟s expectations of getting money from “nowhere”. As such,
my Born Again interviewees often asserted that God could instantly make people
prosperous and frequently claimed that they could “win the Lottery without a ticket”.
Similarly, many Christians in Independent churches tried to appease their ancestors with
hopes that they would re-instate a flow of material „blessings‟ into their lives.
        Beyond cosmological and religious perceptions, economic realities in South Africa
have also severed the link between work and income. According to Statistics South
Africa‟s Quarterly Labour Force Survey for January to March 2010, 4.3 million South
Africans, or 25.2% of people of working age are unemployed (Stats SA 2010a: 1-3). This
figure largely excludes students in full-time education (Morelato at Stats SA, 19/05/2010),

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

717 000 of which are attending higher educational institutions (Stats SA 2010b: 3) while
approximately 9 million15 working-age young people (older than 15) were in school. The
country‟s labour force has steadily been shrinking since 1996 (Crotty 2001; Davies 2001: 2;
Le Roux 2001: 226; Peet 2002: 54-84; Stats SA 2010a16: 1-3; Weeks 1999: 795-811). Given
the large number of unemployed people, it is not surprising that Statistics South Africa‟s
Household Survey for 2009 indicated that 43.7% of households in South Africa were
dependent on government grants for an income (Stats SA 2010b: 6, 37-38). Overall, 28.3%
of individuals received grants with the majority of them being „African‟ (Stats SA 2010:19).
The survey also showed that “an estimated 20% of South African households have
inadequate or severely inadequate access to food” (Stats SA 2010b: 38; Sowetan 2010).
         The concentration of unemployed people and those dependent on government
grants were of course much higher in townships where many of the poor lived (cf.
Macgregor 2005: 1-13). In Khayelitsha for instance, estimates of the unemployment rate
among economically active adults ranged from between 46.3% (Nattrass 2002: 13) to
50.81% (Census 2001), with 90% of households earning less than R3 500 a month
(www.ndmc.gov.za, 19/05/2010).

Stable risks
At the heart of Finmark Trust‟s budgeting exercises, the government‟s alarm over poor
people‟s irresponsible spending and the NRPG‟s definition and treatment of problem
gamblers is a very peculiar conception of risk. Finmark Trust‟s budgeting tools for
instance assume that with the careful, predictable and measured allocation of a set
income, an individual can not only be isolated from risk but can also extend that
protection into the future through savings. Similarly, the NRPG and the government
measure problem gamblers in terms of the ways in which people misallocate a stable
income by using money that should rightly have gone to predictable expenses. In these
conceptions, there is the assumption of a rational subject that decides to engage with risk
in highly contained situations. Such considerations however do not take into account that
life for poor people is frequently indeterminate and unpredictable, and that these
indeterminacies pervade all aspects of life (cf. Malaby 2003). Such considerations also do
not allow for the infiltration of social indeterminacies into strictly economic ones.

15 Statistics South Africa does not break their figures for school-going young people between the ages of 7
and 24 years down into smaller age groups. However, their mid-year population estimates for 2009
indicates that 33.3% of children were younger than 15 (Stats SA 2010c: 3). As a crude estimate, I deducted
33.3% from their figure of 13.924m young people who attended school (Stats SA 2010b: 3).
   Stats SA (2010a) only covers the period 2008 to 2010.

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

        In the field, the abstractions of economics proper raise interesting
methodological and analytical issues (cf Nattrass 2002). Most of my interviewees did not
have a predictable income while their expenses were similarly flexible. I took the
budgeting exercise booklets that I collected at Finmark Trust‟s conference to a few of my
interviewees. All of them were perplexed (and some of them very amused) by the
supposed fixed expenses that these booklets listed. The booklets uniformly listed rent,
food, electricity, water and transport as basic expenses.
        The pointlessness of these budgeting booklets for many people living in the
townships was quickly evident. For instance, an old man I interviewed worried that he
wouldn‟t know what to fill in on the budgeting page as he got his house from the
government and has illegal connections to a nearby electricity pylon. He didn‟t pay for
water and only used public transport when he went into town. These trips were seldom
planned and often entailed visits to insurance brokers, lawyers and funeral houses in the
wake of deaths in his family. These deaths were seldom predictable. He couldn‟t even
guess at the amount of money he needed for food per month as fights in his family often
meant that he had to take in and feed varying numbers of his daughters and their
children. Some of them brought food and left sacks of “Sasko Sam [bread] and Iwisa
[maize meal]” while others just “brought their stomachs”.
        He had a similarly hard time deciding on his monthly income. Although the old
man received a pension, he insisted that he didn‟t always get the same money from the
post office because the security guard, who ushered people past those waiting in the
queue to the clerk, constantly changed his mind about the amount he would charge for
his „services‟. The old man knew that he was paying a bribe but insisted that if he didn‟t,
he would be at the post office for days on end because “nowadays everyone here has
pensions” (cf. Lewis 2010: 1). In this regard, he reckoned the bribe as part of the income
because, as he reasoned, without it, he would not get anything – he feared that the post
office would run out of money by the end of the queue (something that apparently
happened often in the past). He was also not sure that his pension would be paid out and
was hesitant to write it down as a fixed income. Four months previously, the clerk at the
post office informed him that there was no pension for him. The young man couldn‟t tell
him why his pension was stopped but suggested that he go to the police station. There,
the old man found out that he was officially dead. He suspected that someone in Home
Affairs sold his passport to a “Somali kwere-kwere”(foreigner) because he was an “old man

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

and those people wanted money”. In any case, his pension was restored after two
months of wrangles with the police, Home Affairs and the post office.
         During that time, the man relied on the goodwill of his neighbours, the kindness
of a white woman in town in whose garden he worked in when he was younger and on a
loan from a local mashonisa (loan shark) from whom he often borrowed money. “Luckily
she understood about the ID17” and lent him the money anyway. She explained that she
had a good feeling about the old man‟s chances of being declared alive again- and that
once he received his pension again, he would pay her back. In these circumstances, the
old man didn‟t begrudge her the slightly higher interest she charged him and considered
himself “lucky”. The loan‟s interest alone stood at 150% of the original amount
borrowed after the two month wait for the Home Affairs office.
         Like his pension, the old man didn‟t want to include his income from the stokvel
because he didn‟t trust that its two new members would pay their dues and suspected
that the stokvel might collapse. As further evidence of this imminent collapse, he
mentioned that they had a huge fall-out recently when some of the funds went missing.
It turned out that the bank fees were “eating that money” and that no one was to blame.
No amount of budgeting could have helped the old man hedge against the social and
economic indeterminacies that plagued his life.

The risky business of survival
The old man was not an exceptional case. Many of my interviewees complained about
the erratic payment of their social welfare grants, about the “Department of Horror
Affairs”18 and about the difficulties they have in accessing cheap credit and decent
accommodation. My interviewees also complained about the fact that most employers
were now working through labour brokers, who take anything from 20 to 40% of your
earnings for the duration of your employment. As much of this work was seasonal and
contractual, people did not experience job security even if they received a monthly salary.
In this regard, Bahre (2010) found that social workers often encouraged even „normally‟
employed people in Cape Town‟s townships to apply for social grants in order to buffer
them from the vagaries of the job market and the threat of HIV-related illnesses. In both
Khayelitsha and Umlazi, people regularly had to accommodate and feed family members
17 Mashonisas insist on keeping the ID books of their customers as collateral even after the practice was
   The Daily Sun, a popular tabloid newspaper publishes daily stories about the tragedies that befall people
who are waiting for the Department of Home Affairs to issue them with new identity documents or whose
details get mysteriously altered on its national database. The newspaper now has a whole column devoted
to the “Department of Horror Affairs”. It is the most widely read newspaper in Khayelitsha.

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

from rural areas that came to the city to look for work. HIV/AIDS was also putting
enormous strains on family support structures in both locations. The social safety nets
offered by municipal and NGO groups were often dependent on the capriciousness of
political will and funders‟ whims. In February 2010 for instance, the Khayelitsha
pensioners‟ outings, paid for by the municipality, were abruptly cancelled due to budget
restraints while many schools have stopped their feeding schemes for similar reasons.
         Since social grants were so meagre (see Bahre 2010), the majority of my
interviewees were also dependent on a range of other, largely unstable and informal,
income streams (cf. Nattrass 2002). Women were often dependent on small informal
trading businesses where they sold vegetables, sweets, ice lollies, second-hand clothes,
baked goods, barbequed meat and plates of cooked food or other necessities from their
homes or near taxi-ranks and bus stops. Although some of these businesses were rather
lucrative, their profitability was often undercut by events beyond their powers. Thus
many women who sold ice-cream, frozen chickens and cooked food lost large amounts
of perishable stock when the national electricity supplier, ESKOM, rolled out its load-
shedding programme19 during 2007/2008. A large number of people in townships also
make use of illegal electricity connections which are subject to occasional disconnections
by the utility supplier‟s „agents‟ (Tau 2008) and sporadic surges that burn out appliances.
Apart from these factors, small traders also lose their stock to health inspectors and
policemen who periodically seize fake merchandise and goods sold without a trading
licence. My interviewees often described the bribes they paid to law enforcement officers
as an unplanned „tax‟. The majority of these small traders were living hand to mouth and
had no capital for expanding their businesses. In his study of the informal trade in
townships, Neves (2009) remarked that it was not always clear whether “people had a
business or were selling their groceries”.
         Next to the major thoroughfares and in parts of the townships where the
government has built houses, many people have also converted old shipping containers
into hair salons, car repair shops, shebeens, corner shops, telephone and internet cafes.
Although these shops sometimes do a brisk trade, their turnover is often constrained by
the poverty of their clients, by theft and by armed robberies.

  ESKOM preferred to call interruptions of its supply of electricity, due to increasing demand, poor coal
supply, technical incompetency and poor government planning, “load-shedding” rather than power-cuts or
blackouts (Carte Blanche 2008; Myburgh 2008; Wood 2008).

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

        Home-owners or people who rent “RDP”20 houses often sell illegal electricity to
their neighbours or to the people who rent shacks in their back yards. They charge a
monthly fee of between R50 and R100 per person for electricity (cf. Luhanga 2009) and
about R200 to R400 per shack. Often quoted as set monthly rates, many of these
landlords accepted lower payments, delayed terms and often struggled to get their renters
to pay on time. Most people also loaned out small amounts of cash to friends and
neighbours at high interest rates. However, since people often defaulted on their
repayments, few lenders managed to make a “business” of cash loans and frequently
resorted to borrowing from other lenders when they needed money for transport, food,
school fees, mobile phone top-ups or pre-paid electricity. As one woman asserted, “we
are all little mashonisa in this place”.
        Amidst these indeterminacies and insecurities, township residents often explained
their economically „unwise‟ or risky decisions to loan money to someone they knew was
unemployed, to rent out shacks to people who only got child support grants and to give
orphans credit for groceries in terms of “taking a chance”. They often explained that
their decisions were based not on the immediate economic circumstances of their
debtors, as “we‟re all poor”, but on judgements of people‟s abilities to “make a plan”.
Acutely aware that other local people were, like them, dependent on multiple activities
and sources of income, my interviewees asserted that they could not know the specifics
of everyone‟s “plans”; their debtors might be waiting for a loan repayment from
someone else, for a stokvel payout, funeral insurance or a disability grant for an illness.
Since people did not have control over the workings of government departments or the
bureaucracies that handled funeral and life insurance payments and since they could
seldom demand to get money from the stokvel out of turn, their „plans‟ could not
depend on strict time-frames. As many of my interviewees asserted, you could get your
grant, your stokvel bonus and your mother‟s life insurance payout all in one day. In the
meantime, you had to take chances on a variety of plans knowing that those plans were
equally based on the chances that other people were taking.
        Apart from the acceptance that poor people lived uncertain „economic‟ lives and
that such living happened against the backdrop of a social matrix of indeterminacy, the
belief in the (material) agency of invisible forces was also widespread. Township
residents‟ understanding of witchcraft (cf. Ashforth 2000; Niehaus 2001) and the work of

  Although RDP refers to the houses built under the government‟s Reconstruction and Development
Plan, the moniker is commonly used to refer to small brick houses in the townships.

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

demons (van Wyk 2010) negated the possibility of risk-free or „safe‟ living upon which
much economic theory is based. Thus my interviewees often asserted that even the rich
and those who have had jobs for many years could lose it all in an instant due to the
work of invisible forces. Car accidents and illnesses were seldom ascribed to random
occurrences while violent and „unexplained‟ deaths spurred witch hunts and exorcisms.
In the wake of such beliefs, a huge industry of diviners, herbalists, prophets and muthi
sellers are offering cures for various witchcraft afflictions, technologies for luck, and
potions to secure a job, to attract clients to a business and to return money lost through
bad debts and foolish investments. Again, although much of these remedies and
consultations were dependent on a concentrated willingness to believe in their
effectiveness (cf. Kirsch 2004), people were acutely aware that many isangoma and iqhirha
were also just “trying to make a business”. Few of these diviners would turn a paying
customer away if they asked for outcomes that were beyond their abilities to effect.
Diviners and herbalists were also suspected of participating in the very witchcraft
activities that they offered to overturn (van Wyk 2010).

Risk and the National Lottery
It is in this larger context of economic and ontological uncertainties that poor township
residents participated in the Lottery. They then took a “chance” on the lottery in the
same way that they took a chance on someone repaying an unsecured loan or investing in
businesses with low turnovers and no profits. And like dodgy loans, they sometimes got
their money back and sometimes earned a little „bonus‟ on top. Thus although almost
70% of my interviewees reported never winning anything in the Lottery, 80% of them
kept on “taking a chance”. The chances that people took on the Lottery were very small
however; with the average spend on Lottery tickets R52 per month or just over R13 per
week. Furthermore, like their other „plans‟, lottery tickets were bought not from
discretionary incomes but from the same pool of money from which people for instance
bought and sold their groceries. And although everyone I interviewed said that they
would like to win the lottery, they had very modest hopes of actually doing so, even
when they used muthi. In this regard, people could buy an enormous array of potions,
soaps, lotions, powders, sticks and drinks that promised to secure them luck in winning
the Lottery. Local newspapers published numerous advertisements that promoted these
products while people were bombarded with endless flyers promising that a certain
prophet, “professor”, “doctor”, “imam”, sangoma, iqhirha or diviner could help win them
the lotto jackpot. My interviewees laughingly remarked that although the majority of

Ilana van Wyk, ESRC Project, May 2010, London

these diviners were living in shacks and could clearly not help themselves, they
sometimes took a chance on them.
        In the literature, a bevy of scholars have recently suggested that the „irrationalities‟
that mark the flow of capital post-1971 have infected the ways in which poor people
behave 'economically'. They have frequently asserted that conceptions of risk and chance
have started to invade the economic system beyond the gambling industry (Giddens 1991;
Hacking 1990) and that the logics of the casino now inform many economic decisions. In
this tradition, the Comaroffs (1997; 1999; 2000: 318-328) described gambling as a
cornerstone of what they‟ve termed “millennial capitalism”; a new stage in capitalism
where an increased climate of risk is coupled with magical notions about the production of
value. As such, both the South African state and regular people who risk enormous
amount of money on gambling and economic pursuits with uncertain outcomes, partake in
an occult economy where they deploy “magical means for material ends”. The Lottery,
with its promises of enormous riches and its twin industry of muthi- sellers and number
diviners exemplify this trend.
        My research on the economic realities of the townships and my findings about
people‟s risky „economic‟ decisions and their rather modest hopes of millennial changes
undermine such interpretations. Furthermore, a cursory look at the economic behaviour of
South Africa‟s working classes also suggest that “making a plan” and “tata ma chance” are
not new or irrational responses to a changing economic climate but longstanding ways in
which people dealt with a variety of contingencies and insecurities in their lives.


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