Stark income inequality still rearing its ugly head in SA

Millions of South Africans live in poverty. Photo: Timur Weber

Millions of South Africans live in poverty. Photo: Timur Weber

Published Oct 7, 2022


South Africa continues to be the most unequal nation in the world, according to StatsSA. But what does this actually mean?

The Gini index, which measures the distribution of income across a population, is used to measure economic inequality.

According to the World Bank, the top 10 countries in the world with the highest wealth inequality, as measured on the Gini index, are:

South Africa – 63.0%

Namibia – 59.1%

Suriname – 57.9%

Zambia – 57.1%

Sao Tome and Principe – 56.3%

Central African Republic – 56.2%

Eswatini – 54.6%

Mozambique – 54.0%

Brazil – 53.4%

Botswana – 53.3%

According to the World Population Review: “South Africa’s income inequality has become worse over the years... For many countries in Africa, income inequality is rooted in their economic structures.

“A few high-income sectors generate significant wealth, but only for a small number of people, leaving the vast majority of the workforce trapped in lower-income sectors in which they earn far less in the lower-income sectors.”

In South Africa, severe wealth and income disparity between races and genders is one of the main markers of this.

Women are reported to earn about 30% less than men do in terms of average salary, with men more likely to be employed and hold positions that pay relatively more.

“The earnings distributions starkly depict the heavily racialised inequality in the South African labour market,” reports StatsSA.

About 10% of South African households have a monthly budget of less than R350 a person, according to the University of Cape Town’s Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU).

You are among the top 20% of household earners in SA if your post-tax household income allows you to pay R3 800 a month for each member of your family.

Only 20% of South Africans are members of a “solid middle class”, and only four percent are among the country's elite wealthy. Half of South Africans live in chronic poverty.

Reportedly, black individuals not only have the worst employment results, but they also have the lowest incomes when they do find work.

Contrarily, white individuals make far more money than any other group of people.

Information on earnings per month, collected between 2011 and 2015 by StatsSA, is broken down as follows:

Black people – R6 899

Coloured and Indian people – R9 339 and R14 235

White people – R24 646

“Inequality is often exacerbated by inadequate educational systems that fail to prepare all but the richest citizens for better-paying skilled jobs and by the presence of corrupt and/or oppressive governments.

“While many countries in Eastern and Southern Africa enjoy a high concentration of resources (natural and human), many other African countries lack even basic resources such as arable land and clean water, which can hamper overall economic growth,” said the World Population Review.

Conversely, here are the countries with the lowest wealth inequality:

Slovenia – 24.6%

Czech Republic – 25.0%

Slovakia – 25.0%

Belarus – 25.3%

Moldova – 25.7%

United Arab Emirates – 26.0%

Iceland – 26.1%

Azerbaijan – 26.6%

Ukraine – 26.6%

Belgium – 27.2%

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