If you post a map of inequality in South Africa today over one of the apartheid era, there is very little that has changed.
For example, Werner Ruch, director of research and product development at Statistics South Africa (SSA), on Thursday summarized the findings of a comprehensive report on economic inequality.
“The situation is very bad,” says Ruch. “In certain places things are getting better, but even there the level of inequality is still incredibly high.
“South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in the world.”
In fact, according to the SSA’s report, only the richest 1% of the country’s population had any real earnings growth between 2011 and 2015, according to the latest figures available.
And that 1% remains mostly white.
The SSA compiled the report in collaboration with the University of Cape Town’s research unit on labor and development (Saldru) and the Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD).
The research shows from the five classifications that the SSA has for socio-economic status (chronically poor, poor, vulnerable, middle class and elite), statistically speaking, there are actually no white people in the lowest level.
Most white people are in the highest two income groups. In the middle class, 20.5% are white and 66.2% are black, while in the elite 65.4% are white.
At the same time, 94.4% of all chronically poor households are black, as are 86.4% of all poor households and 91.1% of all vulnerable households.
Risenga Maluleke, statistician general of the SSA, says that mainly only the rich get richer, deterioration among even the white population is now visible.
“Unemployment is now creeping even higher among the white population, albeit at a significantly lower rate than among other racial groups.”
However, the SSA found that inequality between racial groups had diminished.
“Economic inequality is now mainly driven by dynamics within racial groups rather than between racial groups,” says Maluleke.
The main problem in reducing inequality is the absence of progress in rural areas.
South Africa’s Gini coefficient has remained unchanged since 2009, and remains at 0.65 from 2015 – one of the highest in the world.
The SSA says the study has a more multidisciplinary approach than can be measured with the Gini coefficient. More than just income was looked at, including teaching and access to basic services.
Maluleke says that since 2006 the country has definitely been less unequal. However, the level of inequality remains incredibly high.