Inequality in South Africa worse in post-apartheid period – report

Alexandra township in Johannesburg. Image credit: Flickr/

Inequality in South Africa has become worse during the post-apartheid period, according to the World Inequality Report 2022 published on Wednesday (8 December).

The report is published annually by the World Inequality Lab and provides the latest data on global wealth, income, gender and ecological inequality.

Inequality in South Africa

The report, which referred to South Africa as one of the most unequal countries in the world, said the average national income of the adult population is R117,260.

“While the bottom 50% earns R12,340, the top 10% earns more than 60 times more R780,300. Today, the top 10% in South Africa earn more than 65% of total national income and the bottom 50% just 5.3% of the total,” it added.

Income inequality has remained “extreme” throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, during which the top 10% income share swung between 50 and 65%.

In contrast, the bottom 50% of the population has never captured more than 5-10% of the national income during this period.

Failure of post-apartheid governments

“While democratic rights were extended to the totality of the population after the end of apartheid in 1994, extreme economic inequalities have persisted and been exacerbated,” the report added.

“Post-apartheid governments have not implemented structural economic reforms (including land, tax and social security reforms) sufficient to challenge the dual economy system.”

Credit: World Inequality Report 2022

With regard to wealth inequality, the richest South Africans have wealth levels comparable to those of rich people in Western European countries, according to the report.

“The top 10% own close to 86% of total wealth and the share of the bottom 50% is negative, meaning that the group has more debts than assets. Since 1990, the average household wealth for the bottom 50% has remained under zero,” it said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened inequality in South Africa, with the unemployment rate at a record high of 34.9%, according to Statistics South Africa.

To read the World Inequality Report 2022 in full, click here. The section on South Africa starts on page 227.

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