Friday, December 12, 2008

Poverty challenge

My colleagues were lamenting how pitiful the South African state pension is - the figure of R283 per month came up. (Sorry, I have no reference.) I claimed that it is possible to survive on that amount, if one reduces ones living standards sufficiently. So the discussion quickly turned into a challenge - whether I could survive on R283 for one month.

(AFAIK the state pension is almost 4 times this amount. I don't know where the figure of R283 fits in - some arbitrary definition of "below the bread line" perhaps?)

I simply do not believe that it is necessary to starve to death in this country. We have enough fat in our system that just about anybody within a couple of sigmas of the mean should be able to eke out a living, however meager.

Of course R283 doesn't go very far. I've accepted that there is no room for a private medical plan. Then again, if you ignore the quacks that advocate garlic for the treatment of AIDS, our public health system is still ticking over, if strained. As for accommodation - let's just pretend that there are an infinite number of bridges. Our weather is mild enough here in the Cape that one needn't die of exposure. But I'll stick to my own home for the Challenge Lite. And since I'm simulating unemployment, I don't really need daily transport, but if I do it'll have to be (make-believe) third-class train tickets.

I don't know if anybody wants to join me in taking on this challenge. I'm not even sure I want to go through with it myself! But I think it would be interesting to test the limits of financial stress. So I'm looking for tips on how to stretch every penny. So far I'm a little stumped on how to get enough protein; carbohydrates seem affordable enough. And let's not forget vitamins.


  1. beans, wouldn't beans give you enough protein to not die?

  2. Lentils apparently have the highest protein of Them All. Otherwise, beans and soya.

    Is growing your own food cheating? If not, I daresay you could grow a fair chunk of your own food in your back garden.

    You could get a crop's worth of maize from a single mielie if you were fairly lucky. Or a whole bunch of sweet potato plants for the price of a single sweet potato (although I think you're already finding this out, yes?). The same goes for lots of other vegetables: tomatoes, butternuts & squashes in general, potatoes.

    Fruit trees are a bit long-term, although you do at least have a lemon tree for the vitamin C.

  3. It's true - I'll be finding out if sweet potatoes work. Nothing goes to waste - it either gets eaten, planted, or composted. I think I have a butternut growing out of the compost too.