Poverty in South Africa

South Africa is a nation with a very deep and turbulent history. Since the official end of apartheid in 1994, the country has been struggling to combat entrenched poverty and inequalities. In order to further understand the issues, here are six facts about poverty in South Africa:

  1. South Africa is a middle-income nation with some highly developed economic sectors. For instance, South Africa’s stock exchange, JSE, is the largest in Africa and top 20 worldwide. Since 2000, South Africa has shown decreasing poverty and a decreasing wealth gap.
  2. The country nonetheless still suffers from serious poverty and unemployment, with 25 to 30 percent of the workforce unemployed. According to the U.S. government, around 36 percent of the population is living in poverty.
  3. The Statistics South Africa defines poverty with three categories: the food poverty line, the lower bound poverty line and the upper bound poverty line. About 20 percent of the population lives below the food poverty line, meaning they cannot afford food that meets a minimum calorie intake.
  4. South Africa’s poverty is rooted in economic disparities. Much of the nation’s wealth, as it is a moderately wealthy nation, is concentrated in the hands of few, particularly those who controlled wealth in apartheid times. Between 60 and 65 percent of the wealth in South Africa is concentrated in the hands of the wealthiest 10 percent of the nation. Comparatively, 40 to 45 percent of wealth in the U.S is controlled by the highest 10 percent.
  5. Poverty in South Africa has actually been declining since the mid 2000s. As a result of doubled per capita health spending and the building of 1.5 million free homes, among other government initiatives, over 2 million South Africans have climbed out of extreme poverty since 2006.
  6. In addition to the increased government spending, the United Nations Development Program has been working with the South African agencies to redress South Africans who were forced off of their land during apartheid. This land restitution initiative will help decrease South Africa’s wealth gap.

While poverty in South Africa is still a large problem, the recent government and international initiatives have had a dramatic effect on poverty reduction and economic redistribution.

John English

Photo: Flickr