South Africa is the most unequal nation in the world. 25 years of democracy did not overcome division


But while democracy has liberated freedom for all South Africans, it has not changed enough for those living in the vast counties of the country.

In fact, despite 25 years of democracy, South Africa remains the most economically unequal country in the world, according to the World Bank. If anything, the rainbow nation is even more divided now than it was in 1994.

And, at the other end of the spectrum, an elite, especially white, continues to thrive.

While the African National Congress (ANC) is expected to win again in Wednesday's national elections, it may be facing an increasingly disenchanted constituency.

The gap between the rich and the poor is wider in South Africa than in any other country with comparable data, the World Bank said.

Mthandazo Ndlovu, Oxfam, manager of democracy and governance in South Africa, says that inequality has been exacerbated as a result of "systemic failures at the governmental level."

It is not just income inequality that causes concern, he adds, but also unequal access to essential public services and opportunities.

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

Read: Land was stolen during apartheid. Not yet returned

This is not to say that the government has not made significant progress in leveling the playing field, he added. Access to basic services such as electricity, water, education and health has improved considerably since the ANC came to power, according to the World Bank report.

But a fraction of the population still enjoys the lion's share of the spoils, while the rest struggle to survive.

The richest families in South Africa are almost 10 times richer than poor households, according to World Bank estimates.

"If you look at the number of people who sleep on an empty stomach, those numbers are quite shocking," adds Ndlovu.

Poverty levels are highest among the black population, followed by the "colorful" population of South Africa – the term accepted for mongrel people in the country.

In South Africa, the white population makes up the majority of the elite – or the top 5 percent – explained Murray Leibbrandt, a professor of economics at the University of Cape Town.

Read: Suidlanders from South Africa are preparing for a racial war

Part of Leibbrandt's work involved monitoring the social progress of 30,000 South Africans from 2008 to 2017.

"The best signifier of a country that is really on its way is not a society without inequality," he said. "It's a society with declining inequality and a growing middle class."

According to Leibbrandt's estimates, the middle class of South Africa is small and slow, and comprises approximately one in five South Africans.

While the middle class has barely grown since 2008, the black middle class percentage has increased from 47% to 64%, he says.

"The image we captured in our statistics is that we have not succeeded in breathing the transformation across the country, and that breaks the country."

Read: Can a new president stop South Africa's decline?

The levels of inequality in South Africa seem to be passed on from generation to generation.

"It's a very embedded phenomenon that does not change very quickly because it's the result of how society is coherent," Leibbrandt said.

The way forward, he suggested, begins with the South Africans recognizing the situation as it is now.

"The point is that this inequality and people's livelihood, which is their everyday life, and then, if we are going to try to flourish together … then we must try to understand that."


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