December 6, 2013

Chart of the Week: How South Africa changed, and didn’t, over Mandela’s lifetime


Over the course of Nelson Mandela’s 95 years, South Africa evolved from a white-ruled British dominion to a republic representative of its majority-black population. But while the country has changed politically and demographically, economically it still looks much as it did nearly a century ago, divided along racial lines.

This infographic from The Economist shows how economic disparities between South Africa’s major racial groups (measured in real per-capita income) have grown over time. The gap between whites and all other groups grew wider till about 1970; white income growth flattened out in the 1970s and 1980s, as sanctions hobbled the country’s economy. But as sanctions were lifted after the collapse of the apartheid regime, whites and Asians (mostly of Indian descent) have benefited the most while black incomes have been nearly flat.

Note: Figures in South African rand. Current exchange rate: $1 US = 10.35 rand. Source: Statistics South Africa
Note: Figures in South African rand. Current exchange rate: $1 US = 10.35 rand. Source: Statistics South Africa

According to South Africa’s 2011 census, average annual household income for blacks was 60,613 rand (roughly $8,700 at the then-current exchange rate), about a sixth the average annual income among white households and a quarter that of Asian households. Mixed-race (or “coloured” in South African parlance) households had an average income about twice that of blacks. (Note that those figures are in current dollars, and so aren’t directly comparable to the inflation-adjusted ones in the Economist chart.)

The other trend the Economist’s graphic makes clear is how much faster South Africa’s black population is growing relative to other racial groups. Blacks made up 79.2% of the country’s 51.8 million people, according to the 2011 census, up from 77.4% in 1996; whites were 8.9% of the population, down from 11% in 1996. (The population shares of mixed-race and Asian people have stayed fairly constant.)


Category: Chart of the Week

Topics: Sub-Saharan Africa

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.


  1. Viktor Hanssen1 year ago

    An important thing to take note off is that Nelson Mandela fought for blacks rights, not decreasing the economical gap between blacks and whites.

  2. b199er2 years ago

    The average Black Nigerian likely now has a higher GDP per capita than the average Black South African. Says a lot about the legacy of European colonialism of Africa.

  3. Gerhard van Niekerk2 years ago

    I have a problem in comparing average household income without adjusting for the average age of households.The average age of whites is much higher than eg the black population’s. If the average age of whites is say 35 and that of blacks is say 20, it is inevitable that the older group will earn significantly more because of level of jobs held and experience. It will clearly not irradicate the difference but will give a more accurate picture.

  4. Juan3 years ago

    There are 2 factors for this:

    The huge difference in size between all the racial groups and the continual acceptance to have more than 3 children when in reality you can barely afford 1 child adequately. How is any parent able to over come the challenge of buying food, clothes and send their child for further education.

    The 2nd factor is based on schooling and university education. You will note the appalling conditions of the schools, bad discipline, bad teachers and either few or no school supplies in most of the schools, which has been build after 1994 by the government. You are lucky if a child finishes or pass high school not even mentioning trying to go to university and there is no effort made on maths or science and having weakened the standards of education to such a degree that university life will be such a shock to most who enters it, half drops out by the end of the 1st year.

    And lets face it, you don’t become rich by working as a general worker in a factory. Its the degrees, engineers, doctors, lawyers and accountants that get the money and if you have what it takes an entrepreneur.

    These might be topics most people don’t want to talk about but they are there and a reality.

    For me the real thing to be blamed here is not because of apartheid, it is the lack of willingness from the government and we the people of South Africa to educate and better the lives of ourselves and our children. Instead we have became a nation of handouts and corruption and accepting things which are not the norm.

    Look at countries such as Germany, Singapore, Japan and so many others who have rebuilt after devastating wars or huge disasters or horrible dictators. It takes a lot of hard work, determination which we seem to be lacking in this country. We even have Nigeria who has surpassed us in growth and they have terrorists controlling parts of their country but they are succeeding better than us economically.

    We need a serious wake up call.

  5. C Kolb3 years ago

    Fascinating. One theory may be that average black-household income is weighed down – at least to some extent – by the higher population growth rate within the black group. If population growth eats away at gains in the number of jobs available, then ‘average’ income per household would suffer to some extent as the number of households increase relative to the number of jobs – one would expect unemployment rates to reflect this and – according to the Adcorp’s unemployment index – that is precisely what happened during the first decade of this century. One also has to ask, what has the impact of large social grants been on our entrepreneurial psychology (relative to GDP we are currently only beaten by the Scandinavians if I recall correctly)? Add to that government jobs and BEE; and we have a culture which is less interested in entrepreneurship than it needs to be to drive economic growth and job creation.

    1. C Kolb3 years ago

      Apologies – that should rather be Adcorp’s Employment Index.

  6. Joe Black3 years ago

    If the study was based on spending power then the situation would look a lot different.

    With high income groups being taxed 30-40% – Put 14% vat on top of that on, wait for it… Everything! Then Those lofty incomes suddenly look a lot lower.

    Low income groups in SA enjoy a slew of financial benefits which have been put in place to try and balance the divide. Generally the benefits are becoming more pronounced over time.

    I’m not saying that puts incomes on par, but it definitely brings them closer together.

    The problem in SA is also not that there are no opportunities for black people to financially better their position (lack of work aside). Things like major share portions of just about all large companies that have been made available to black owners at a bargain discount price (required by law and enforced through an empowerment points system). Its just that more than the fair share of these opportunities have been scooped up by the black elite. A group which is generally tied closely to the old tribal ruling class. And virtually nothing has been done to make poor black people aware of the opportunities available to them. Nor has much welfare money gone into acquiring these type of things for poor Africans. Welfare generally being in the form of cash, no assets.

    So in my humble opinion its an utter failure caused by the greed of relatively few. Any challenge to this state of affairs is shot down as racist and inconsiderate of African culture. This while the blame for statistics like these are left hanging ominously unsaid, but generally takes the form of: “The evil white boogy man controls the money.”

    This status quo in SA is being maintained by bottle feeding people on the ground a seductive mix of leftist anti-western and socialist garbage propaganda to make sure they keep supporting the ruling elite, while the ruling class (the term is as relevant as it has ever been in any monarchy) have turned into a conniving pack of corrupt hyper-Capitalists.

    In Zimbabwe this strategy has kept Mugabe in power long past anything resembling reason. It is working just as well in SA. SA’s economic outlook is thus determined solely by how eagerly the elite feel they need to spoon propaganda down the throats of the people they are supposed to be representing.

    I’m really not making this stuff up. According to my calculations each of president Zuma’s wives get a bigger allowance than the salary of the president of the USA. And its just the tip of the ice berg.

    1. Joe Black3 years ago

      Also. The statistic is immensely skewed by the 30mil odd citizens who are jobless. The majority of which are black yes.

      While it is true that household income is household income. Jobs cannot just be created out of thin air. And thus the unemployed will draw a sad picture of black income in SA for decades still to come.

      It doesn’t show how much progress has been made. There are definitely more black haves in SA than white haves. Maybe there are still richer white haves, but the ANC has seemed to make a point of making real inroads into that state of affairs [lol]. The real issue in SA are the have nots. And there are more of those than white and black haves combined.

      SA statistics need to be divided between those who can afford to live dignified lives and those who can’t. Those who are able to work for a better future for themselves and their families and those who currently do not have a chance in hell.

      The empowerment efforts in SA are just simply too top heavy.

  7. Packard Day4 years ago

    Please correct me if I am misreading the first graph, but it appears that the Black/White income gap among South Africans nearly doubled since apartheid was officially ended in 1994. The rich do seem to have gotten…well…richer. No?

    Much like the top 10% in Barrack Obama’s America during these past five years, it appears that Nelson Mandela and his policies have been very, very good to those who already had the majority of their country’s wealth and power. Everyone else, in both countries, were merely the unwashed chumps left holding the bag.

    Yes, it is good to be king

    1. Not surprised4 years ago

      Every one was given equal opportunities. It’s what you do with it that makes the difference.

      1. b199er2 years ago

        A level playing field, equal opportunities etc. mean nothing. The rich will still own more assets than the poor. The rich will still send their children to better schools than the poor. The rich will, with their connections help their children get a leg up in the world. The rich, through their experience will pass on such knowledge to their children.

        Just as Britain’s poor white population are generationally poor, and Britains rich white population are generationally rich despite Britain’s equal opportunities and lack of racial discrimination of white people to fellow white people. The best that poor Black South Africans can hope for in their nation is a fate as good as Britain’s poor. That is for most of their descendants to be poor in 100 years time.

        It will likely take many millenia before all traces of European privilege in South Africa would be neutralized, as all present day societies, including the United States, the ruling class can trace back their privileged position centuries back, despite wars and other major social upheavals.

  8. Ted Baumann4 years ago

    It would be sooo much more helpful to see this data in terms of social class as well – certainly a better guide to appropriate political response. It’s true that the “deal” that ended political apartheid left whites and Asian-descended South Africans in place to capture most of the gains from the end of SA’s economic isolation. But it also extended those gains to a selected slice of the black population, very much by design. The class interests of the black elite have always acted, as intended, as a shield against more radical redistribution. And it’s worth noting that within the white and coloured populations, income distribution is also hugely skewed.

  9. Not Surpised4 years ago

    It would seem the main difference between black and white is priorities. Black seem to focus more on growing their families while whites concentrate on making money. It’s all a matter of choice…

    1. John4 years ago

      HA! Choice? Oh, please. Your vague truisms about what whites and blacks ‘focus on’ is ridiculously reductive. I see a lot of white focusing on walking around not getting hit by cars, so that must mean something about them!

      1. Byron4 years ago

        Terrible counter argument. He’s right and I can tell you that by first hand knowledge since I am South African. The Caucasian focus more on money because they need to due to the country’s racist agenda that empowers Africans over the Coloured Population, then the Asian, then the Caucasian. Obviously you also have to take into account that there are way more black people in SA so these graphs just basically show you how much more people can earn unilaterally distributed amongst people if you supply them with the ability to manage their families and education. This study is a complete flaw and mockery in the wake of identifying equality amongst peers.

        1. Themba4 years ago

          So blacks are poor because it’s their fault.

          Why am I not surprised by your “explanation”?

    2. Not Surprised4 years ago

      Hey John, how do you know what they are focusing on? And where do you live? How many wives do you have and how many wives do you think President Zuma has? How much is your house worth and how much tax payers money do you think our president spent on upgrading his home? He leads by example. Can you not see how the black population grew? You try and create equal jobs for such a growing nation…. good luck!