According to a new World Bank report, South Africa is the world’s most unequal country, with race playing the most significant role in driving inequality.

Despite being three decades since the end of apartheid in South Africa, the country’s richest 10 per cent own more than 80 per cent of wealth, according to the report entitled “Inequality in Southern Africa” and published by the World Bank on Tuesday.

The country’s stark inequality persists because of race and “its impact on education and the labour market”, said the report.

“South Africa, the largest country in the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) is the most unequal country in the world, ranking first among 164 countries,” it said.

The country’s neighbours that make up the rest of the Southern African Customs Union – Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho and Namibia – established in 1910, all finish higher on the list of the most unequal countries in the world.

According to the report, race’s contribution to income inequality amounts to 41 per cent, while the contribution of education had been reduced to 30 per cent.

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

Women are underpaid for their services

Apart from race, gender has also played a key role in driving inequality. Women in the region earn on an average 30 per cent less than men with the same educational qualifications, the report stated.

The legacy of colonialism and apartheid, rooted in racial and spatial segregation, continues to reinforce inequality

According to the report, race plays a determining factor in a society where 10 per cent of the population owns more than 80 per cent of the wealth. The economy is governed by a few companies that were founded during the colonial and apartheid eras and continue to benefit from their stronghold during those eras as well as government assistance.

lack of access to key productive assets such as skills and land is slowing progress towards a more equitable income distribution

According to Pierella Paci, World Bank Practice Manager of the Poverty and Equity Global Practice for Eastern and Southern Africa, Improving access and availability of private-sector jobs and access to productive assets such as land will help equalize opportunities.  

Rising wages for skilled labourers and stagnant wages for semi-skilled labourers have caused wage inequalities.

The belief is that the rich are being rewarded for taking risks, having superior skills, hard work, and unusual determination.


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