White South Africans continue to enjoy a significantly higher quality of life than other racial groups, according to a new survey which highlights the stark inequalities that pervade the nation more than two decades after apartheid’s demise.
The Institute for Race Relations’ Quality of Life survey found that whites consistently score higher on indicators for education, employment, income and health than their African, Indian/Asian and Coloured compatriots. Perhaps the most significant area of inequality continues to be access to jobs in a country racked by mass unemployment.
Just 8.9% of white South Africans are unemployed, compared to 40.9% of Africans, 28% of Coloureds and 16.6% of Asians. That’s partly the result of an education sector that continues to disadvantage Africans – only 69.3% of Africans matriculated in 2016, compared to 99% of whites.
Under apartheid, education for Africans and other racial groups was deliberately underfunded while resources were poured into white areas. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) government, which has been in power since apartheid ended in 1994, has attempted to close the gap but progress remains piecemeal.
In 2014, South Africa’s government spent about 6.1% of GDP on funding the country’s education system, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics. In comparison, the UK only spent 5.6% of GDP on education. The African nation was ranked 75th out of 76 in a 2015 OECD league table of education, with some 27% of children who attend school for six years still unable to read.
Both education and employment inequalities contribute to the country’s rampant income disparities. 63.3% of white households spend R10,000 or more per month compared to just 8.1% of Africans and 18.9% Coloureds. The picture is similarly bleak in healthcare – 73.3% of whites have access to medical aid coverage compared to just 10.6% of Africans.
The results of the survey suggest that the government is struggling to overcome South Africa’s entrenched legacy of institutionalised racial discrimination and fulfil the ambitious promises made to the country’s African majority at the dawn of democracy in 1994.
“The index shows that Black South Africans have a far poorer quality of life than Indian/Asian and Coloured South Africans. And it’s particularly these inequalities within the broader ‘black’ population that do not receive sufficient policy attention, and should be addressed through policies that will grow the economy, create jobs and bring better service delivery and therefore quality of life,” says report author Gerbrandt van Heerden.
Economic performance has stalled under Jacob Zuma’s eight-year presidency, which has been dogged by repeated political and personal scandals including allegations of cronyism. Consistent fiscal and development policy has proved elusive amid Zuma’s repeated sacking of finance ministers. In April, respected incumbent Pravin Gordhan was the third finance minister in under two years to be sacked, having pursued fiscally conservative policies advocating reduced government spending on prestige projects and reform of failing state-owned enterprises. The sacking prompted anger among investors and a long-predicted downgrade to junk status by ratings agencies S&P and Fitch, further marring the outlook for economic growth.
Senior government ministers, including new Treasury head Malusi Gigaba, are now openly discussing radical economic transformation in a bid to shore up waning electoral support among black South Africans and provide renewed impetus to an economy expected to grow by just 1.3% this year. While radical policy positions traditionally encompass calls for the redistribution of white farmland and moves to nationalise the country’s mines and banks, the details of any new economic policy remain vague.