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Women pack boxes of fresh vegetables in Guguletu, Cape Town, South Africa on the 9th June, 2009. They are part of the Abalami Bezehkaya project, that teaches people better farming techniques and sells fresh produce weekly to generate incomes for the farmers involved.
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Demand Equity

5 Shocking Facts That Show Why South Africa Is the ‘Most Unequal Country in the World’


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Economic inequality remains a large issue in South Africa and contributes to extreme poverty. In order to achieve the United Nations’ Global Goal 10 that calls for reduced inequalities, as well as Goal 8 that calls for decent work and economic growth, South Africa needs to come to terms with its serious inequalities and work towards sustainable solutions. Join the movement and take action on this issue here

A new report from Oxfam South Africa details the country’s deepening inequalities by showing the income and lifestyle differences between white men and women, and Black men and women. 

In 2019, the World Bank recognised South Africa as the most unequal country in the world, meaning that South Africa’s economy does not equally benefit all of its citizens.  

The World Bank also reported that the richest 20% of people in South Africa control almost 70% of the resources.

Speaking to CNN, Mthandazo Ndlovu, Oxfam South Africa's democracy and governance manager, explained that it is not just the income inequality that is worrying, but also unequal access to opportunities and essential services. 

"One would have assumed that 25 years into democracy we would have had better access to land, better access to health care, we would not have children falling into pit latrines due to failures in the provision of ablution facilities," he said.

The report, titled “Reclaiming Power: Womxn’s Work and Income Inequality in South Africa” points out Black women are the lowest earners, even though the work that most Black women do, such as teaching, household work, and retail services, is essential to fuel the economy. 

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It points out that the economy is governed by a handful of companies that were founded in the colonial and apartheid eras, and continue to benefit from their stronghold during those eras as well as government assistance. 

The report also highlights that existing government policies have failed to reduce inequality. These include trade liberalisation, which is the removal of certain barriers in order to trade between different countries to encourage free trade, and privatisation, which moves the ownership of a company from public to private. 

The report explains that these policies have only strengthened the handful of already successful companies, rather than create equitable growth through job creation. 

Here are a few of the eye-opening facts that the report uses to illustrate South Africa’s inequality. 

1. The average white, male CEO earns the same as 461 Black women in the bottom 10% of earners

The report kicks off with this shocking statistic that is a clear indication of the country’s economic disparities. 

While just over 30% of Black women in South Africa are employed (compared to 70% of white men) most of them work in low-paying care positions or occupy precarious jobs, such as call centre operators or housekeepers. 

The report showed that the average monthly income of a Black woman doing precarious work is just R2,500, which, compared to a white woman in the same position who on average earns R10,000, is very low. 

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The report also notes that African women work longer hours and are more dedicated to their employment. 

“The belief is that the rich are being rewarded for taking risks, having superior skills, hard work, and an unusual determination,” the report says. “But if wealth were a result of hard work, African womxn such as those referred to in the report would be the richest people on the planet.”

2. 9 out of 10 Black households do not have medical insurance

Most Black households have to pay out of pocket for health care services, and cannot afford medical aid. The opposite can be said for white households, the majority of which have medical insurance.

The report shows that just 10% of households are headed by a Black person who can afford medical aid. 

This compared to 70% of white-headed households under the same circumstances. 

3. Qualified Black women earn 24% less than qualified white women

Black women between the ages of 18 and 34 with a university degree have an average monthly income of R13,000, compared to a white woman under the same circumstances earning R17,000 on average. 

More than this, the report shows that white people who have not completed their high school education and do not have a matric certificate, tend to earn more than Black people who do have a matric certificate. 

4. Black Women providing care work are unpaid or underpaid for their services

Black women are more likely to work in underpaid service positions such as housework, education, childcare, and community services. These positions are essential for a functioning economy even though they pay the least. 

The report points out that women, mainly Black women, are a lot more likely to take on care work — the work done out of love, commitment, or duty. This kind of work is not included in the calculations on the economy or its growth and very often goes unpaid. 

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The value of women’s unpaid care work is around R352 billion annually, which is roughly 14% of South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product. Unfairly, the wealthiest 10% actually depend on this free or underpaid work as it consists of menial time-consuming work that contributes to a functioning household, examples of these would be child care and cleaning services. 

5. Black Women-owned properties are less valuable than white-owned properties

Although it was recently established that young Black women are becoming strong forces in the property market — with many of those in their late 20s and early 30s owning at least one property — the Oxfam report shows that Black female-owned properties are worth less than white-owned properties. 

The report states that property valued at less than R50,000 is most likely to be owned and headed by a Black woman, whereas property valued at more than R1 million is most likely owned by a white man. 

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Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa, Siphokazi Mthathi, explains that South Africa has not yet taken the information that the country is the most unequal in the world and turned it into plausible solutions. 

“We as a society have not yet fully processed it and taken steps towards a better future,” she said. “This report is one important step towards a better understanding of inequality and what we should do to reduce it.”

Mthathi also explains the importance of reading through the report slowly in order to grasp the gravity of the inequalities and to envision the possible solutions. You can read the full report here