flag South Africa South Africa: Economic and Political Overview

In this page: Economic Outline | Political Outline | COVID-19 Country Response

 

Economic Outline

Economic Overview

South Africa has a highly developed economy and advanced economic infrastructure, making the country the leading African economy (with Nigeria) and home to around three-quarters of the largest African companies. The national government has been investing in significant policy improvements to restore macroeconomic stability in the country. Even though the government stated that boosting economic growth, cutting unemployment and avoiding downgrades by credit-rating agencies constituted the economic key priorities, South Africa still faces rising public debt, inefficient state-owned enterprises, and spending pressures, which have reduced the country’s global competitiveness. After growing by 1.9% in 2022, GDP expanded by 0.4% and 0.6% in the initial two quarters of 2023, fueled by investments in infrastructure, machinery, and equipment. However, household consumption experienced its first contraction since 2021 in the second quarter of 2023. For the year as a whole, the IMF estimated growth at 0.9%, also due to persistent energy crisis stemming from mismanagement at the state-owned power utility Eskom, which had a severe impact on electricity-intensive sectors such as mining, paper, metals, and retail. Despite efforts to tackle the crisis, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a "state of national disaster" in February 2023. The IMF expects GDP to grow by 1.8% this year and 1.6% in 2025, with investment as the main driver, while private consumption should remain subdued.


South Africa was recently replaced by Nigeria as Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy, but the country continues to be a regional leader. Concerning public finances, during the first half of 2023, tax revenue collection experienced a notable decline, and the public sector wage settlement exceeded budgeted amounts. Consequently, the fiscal deficit deteriorated significantly to -6.2% of GDP, marking a reversal after two years of fiscal consolidation. Projections indicate that the fiscal balance will stabilize in 2024 and 2025 as the fiscal stance reverts to contractionary measures. The debt-to-GDP ratio continued to increase in 2023 (to 73.7% from 71.1% one year earlier), together with debt servicing costs, and should reach 78.8% by 2025 (IMF). Moreover, the combined gross consolidated public debt, including both non-financial and financial corporations, stands at nearly 120% of GDP (Coface), and providing direct support to struggling state-owned enterprises could potentially exacerbate the existing debt burden. The yearly average inflation rate settled at 6% in 2023, remaining relatively high during January–May, consistently surpassing 6% in the headline rate; before moderating below this threshold for the subsequent seven months of the year (official governmental data). The IMF sees inflation declining to around 4.5% over the forecast horizon.

South Africa’s unemployment rate is still high, but continued on its downward path in 2023: as of the third quarter, the country’s official unemployment rate dipped below 32% for the first time since the third quarter of 2020 (Statistics SA). Furthermore, unemployment rates are much higher among the young population and the black majority of South Africans, further increasing inequality in a country considered one of the most unequal in the world: according to the latest data available from the World Bank, around 55.5% of the population lives below the national upper poverty line. The IMF estimated the average GDP per capita (PPP) at USD 16,211 in 2023.

 
Main Indicators 20222023 (E)2024 (E)2025 (E)2026 (E)
GDP (billions USD) 405.11380.91401.47417.95432.50
GDP (Constant Prices, Annual % Change) 1.90.91.81.61.4
GDP per Capita (USD) 6,6846,1916,4276,5906,717
General Government Balance (in % of GDP) -5.7-6.2-6.3-6.3-6.4
General Government Gross Debt (in % of GDP) 71.173.775.878.881.6
Inflation Rate (%) n/a5.84.84.54.5
Unemployment Rate (% of the Labour Force) 33.532.832.832.933.2
Current Account (billions USD) -1.83-9.53-11.14-9.93-9.80
Current Account (in % of GDP) -0.5-2.5-2.8-2.4-2.3

Source: IMF – World Economic Outlook Database, Latest data available.

Note : (E) Estimated data

 

Main Sectors of Industry

Agriculture represents a small part of South Africa's GDP (2.8%) and employs 21% of the workforce (World Bank). The country's agricultural economy is highly diversified and market-oriented. The country is the world's 8th largest producer of wine and the continent's largest corn (10th producer in the world) and sugar producer. Grains and cereals - such as maize, wheat, barley and soya beans - are the county's most important crops. As such, the country produces all major grains - with the exception of rice. The “2021-2030 Agricultural Outlook Projections Report” produced by The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) asserts that the country’s real agricultural GDP could grow by 14% by 2030, with gross production value increasing by almost USD 2 billion. According to the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP), while overall GDP increased by 0.6% in Q2, agricultural GDP surged by 4.2%, marking it as the leading contributor to economic growth. Notably, this growth contrasts sharply with the nearly 12% contraction experienced in agricultural GDP during the preceding quarter.

South Africa is rich in mineral resources. The country is the world's largest producer and exporter of gold, platinum, chrome and manganese, the second-largest palladium producer and the fourth-largest producer of diamonds - with mining rents accounting for around 3.8% of GDP (World Bank, latest available data). Platinum and coal are now both larger contributors to mining output than gold, as the country produces 80% of the world's platinum and has 3% of the world's coal reserves. Coal continues to play a vital role as an energy source and contributes significantly to the economy, both through the generation of export revenue and employment. Important oil and gas reserves are thought to be situated off-coast, in the Indian Ocean. South Africa has diverse manufacturing industries and is a world leader in several specialised sectors, including railway rolling stock, synthetic fuels, mining equipment and machinery. Overall, the industrial sector employs 17% of the workforce and represents 24.7% of the country's GDP (with manufacturing representing 12% alone). According to the latest figures from the National Statistical Office, production in manufacturing industry decreased by 1.3% in the third quarter of 2023, contributing -0,1% to the negative GDP growth registered during the period.

The services sector employs 61% of the workforce and represents 62.3% of the country's GDP. The major sectors of the economy are finance, real estate and business services, followed by general government services. South Africa has a sophisticated financial structure with an active stock exchange that ranks among the world's top 20 in terms of market capitalisation. Tourism contributes 3.7% to South Africa’s GDP, more than agriculture, utilities and construction (official governmental data). After suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, international tourist arrivals from January to July 2023 totalled 4.8 million, marking a 70.6% increase when compared with the same period one year earlier.

 
Breakdown of Economic Activity By Sector Agriculture Industry Services
Employment By Sector (in % of Total Employment) 21.3 17.3 61.4
Value Added (in % of GDP) 2.6 24.4 62.6
Value Added (Annual % Change) 0.3 -2.3 3.6

Source: World Bank, Latest data available.

 

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Indicator of Economic Freedom

Definition:

The Economic freedom index measure ten components of economic freedom, grouped into four broad categories or pillars of economic freedom: Rule of Law (property rights, freedom from corruption); Limited Government (fiscal freedom, government spending); Regulatory Efficiency (business freedom, labour freedom, monetary freedom); and Open Markets (trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom). Each of the freedoms within these four broad categories is individually scored on a scale of 0 to 100. A country’s overall economic freedom score is a simple average of its scores on the 10 individual freedoms.

Score:
59,7/100
World Rank:
99
Regional Rank:
9



 

Business environment ranking

Definition:

The business rankings model measures the quality or attractiveness of the business environment in the 82 countries covered by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Country Forecast reports. It examines ten separate criteria or categories, covering the political environment, the macroeconomic environment, market opportunities, policy towards free enterprise and competition, policy towards foreign investment, foreign trade and exchange controls, taxes, financing, the labour market and infrastructure.

Score:
6.04/10
World Rank:
51/82

Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit - Business Environment Rankings 2020-2024

 

Country Risk

See the country risk analysis provided by Coface.

 

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Political Outline

Current Political Leaders
President: Cyril RAMAPHOSA (since February 2018) – ANC ; the president is both chief of state and head of government
Vice President: Paul MASHSATILE (since 7 March 2023)
Next Election Dates
Presidential: May 2024
Legislative (National Council of Provinces and National Assembly): 2024
Current Political Context
Although the African National Congress (ANC) continues to maintain its position as the leading political entity, its popularity has been consistently diminishing in recent years, with recent surveys showing backing dropping below 50%. President Cyril Ramaphosa, who assumed office in 2018, weathered the "Phala Phala" misconduct scandal and succeeded in retaining the leadership of the ANC prior to the 2024 elections.
Ahead of the impending elections, the Democratic Alliance, South Africa's second-largest party, joined forces with the Inkatha Freedom Party and several smaller parties to launch the Multi-Party Charter for South Africa. The objective is to unify opposition forces and present an alternative to the ANC. Notably, the charter coalition did not include the populist Economic Freedom Fighters, which is the third largest party.
Main Political Parties

The main political parties in South Africa are:

  • African National Congress (ANC): ruling party in power since the end of apartheid and Nelson Mandela's election in 1994; consistently wins at least 60% of the vote, although its popularity declined by several percentage points between 2004 and 2014; centre-left to left-wing, but allied with the far left groups, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP)
  • Democratic Alliance (DA): official opposition, centrist, supports liberal democracy and free market principles, progressively gaining in popularity
  • Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF): far-left, Marxist, has been gaining popularity
  • Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP): conservative, right-wing, dominated by rural, Zulu-speakers based in the KwaZulu-Natal region; emphasises social justice and the role of traditional communities. The party's popularity has been consistently decreasing in recent years
  • Freedom Front Plus (FF+): right-wing, advocates for the rights of Afrikaans-speaking South Africans and minority groups.
Type of State
South Africa is a federal parliamentary republic.
Executive Power
The President is both the chief of state and the head of the Government. The President is indirectly elected by the Parliament (lower house) to serve a five-year term. He/She is usually the leader of the largest party. The President is the also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, declares war or peace and appoints the Cabinet.
Legislative Power
South Africa has a bicameral legislature. The National Council of Provinces (the upper house) has 90 seats, with 10 members elected by each of the nine provincial legislatures for five-year terms. The National Assembly ( the lower house) has 400 seats; the members are directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation vote to serve 5-year terms.

The executive branch of the Government is directly or indirectly dependent on the support of the Parliament, often expressed through a vote of confidence. The President can dissolve the Parliament if a majority of the members of the National Assembly seek its dissolution and if has been at least three years since the last election.

 

Indicator of Freedom of the Press

Definition:

The world rankings, published annually, measures violations of press freedom worldwide. It reflects the degree of freedom enjoyed by journalists, the media and digital citizens of each country and the means used by states to respect and uphold this freedom. Finally, a note and a position are assigned to each country. To compile this index, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) prepared a questionnaire incorporating the main criteria (44 in total) to assess the situation of press freedom in a given country. This questionnaire was sent to partner organisations,150 RWB correspondents, journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. It includes every kind of direct attacks against journalists and digital citizens (murders, imprisonment, assault, threats, etc.) or against the media (censorship, confiscation, searches and harassment etc.).

World Rank:
32/180
 

Indicator of Political Freedom

Definition:

The Indicator of Political Freedom provides an annual evaluation of the state of freedom in a country as experienced by individuals. The survey measures freedom according to two broad categories: political rights and civil liberties. The ratings process is based on a checklist of 10 political rights questions (on Electoral Process, Political Pluralism and Participation, Functioning of Government) and 15 civil liberties questions (on Freedom of Expression, Belief, Associational and Organizational Rights, Rule of Law, Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights). Scores are awarded to each of these questions on a scale of 0 to 4, where a score of 0 represents the smallest degree and 4 the greatest degree of rights or liberties present. The total score awarded to the political rights and civil liberties checklist determines the political rights and civil liberties rating. Each rating of 1 through 7, with 1 representing the highest and 7 the lowest level of freedom, corresponds to a range of total scores.

Ranking:
Free
Political Freedom:
2/7
Civil Liberties:
2/7

Political freedom in the world (interactive map)
Source: Freedom in the World Report, Freedom House

 

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COVID-19 Country Response

Travel restrictions
Regularly updated travel information for all countries with regards to Covid-19 related entry regulations, flight bans, test and vaccines requirements is available on TravelDoc Infopage.
To find information about the current travel regulations, including health requirements, it is also advised to consult Travel Regulations Map provided and updated on a daily basis by IATA.
Import & export restrictions
A general overview of trade restrictions which were adopted by different countries during the COVID-19 pandemic is available on the International Trade Centre's COVID-19 Temporary Trade Measures webpage.
Economic recovery plan
The overview of the economic and fiscal measures is available on the page dedicated to South Africa on the KPMG's website.
For a general overview of the key economic policy responses to the COVID-19 outbreak (fiscal, monetary and macroeconomic) undertaken by the South African government, please consult the country's dedicated section in the IMF’s Policy Tracker platform.
Support plan for businesses
For an evaluation of impact of the Covid pandemic on SMEs and an inventory of country responses to foster SME resilience, refer to the OECD's SME Covid-19 Policy Responses document.
You can also consult the World Bank's Map of SME-Support Measures in Response to COVID-19.

 

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Latest Update: April 2024