21 ways life in South Africa has improved since 1994

The Institute of Race Relations has released a report detailing the many areas in South Africa where life has improved since the dawn of democracy.

The report – titled Life in South Africa: Reasons for Hope – was published at a time of economic uncertainty and political instability.

However, it is for this reason that the report is necessary, the IRR said – to show the socio-economic success the country has achieved, and the many ways in which life has become better.

“The context is one in which the economy is not performing strongly. Too many people are unemployed. There is a great deal of corruption. Violent protests are commonplace. Questions are being asked about the future of South Africa’s democracy,” the IRR said.

“But amidst the turmoil, IRR analysts see the story of a young democracy that has made a vast amount of progress in fields ranging from the economy and employment to living standards, poverty, education, healthcare and crime.

“This is not captured by screaming newspaper headlines but by the substantive progress we have made as a country since the end of apartheid. It is a story of hope amid change.”

These are the x ways in which life in South Africa has improved greatly, according to the IRR


  • The economy has grown by 85% in real terms since 1994, from R1.65 trillion to R3.06 trillion in 2015.
  • Real GDP per capita is 33% higher, from R42,386 per person, to R56,343 in 2015
  • Disposable income has increased by 42%, from R23,686 to R33,660 in 2015.
  • Inflation has dropped from 9% in 1994 to 4.6% in 2015.
  • The budget deficit has decreased from 7.1% of GDP to 2.9% of GDP in 2015.
  • Despite high unemployment, more people are taking part in the economy, with 58.1% market participation in 2015, up from only 47.7% in 1994.
  • More than double the amount of black Africans are employed in 2015 than in 1994.

Living conditions

  • There are fewer informal homes in 2015 than in 1994, with a 131.3% increase in formal homes.
  • People with access to electricity has increased for cooking (228%), lighting (192%) and heating (58%) – while access to water has more than doubled (110%) and access to toilets has also increased significantly (151%).
  • The number of low income households (LSM 1-3) has decreased significantly – showing a move to higher income homes (LSM 4-7 and LSM 8-10).
  • The middle class has increased significantly – almost doubling since 1994.
  • Households living in extreme poverty has been been reduced from 525 of the black African population in 2002, to 20% in 2015.


  • A higher proportion of black South African students is passing than ever before – 67.4% in 2015, versus 49% in 1994.
  • More students are attending university than ever before – with 807,000 students enrolled in 2015, versus 385,200 in 1994.
  • Black South African students now make up the majority of students (70.1%) compared to only 20% in the late 1980s, and over 45% in the mid 90s.
  • There are more students studying towards a science, engineering or technology degree now than ever before (55,574 students in 2015, versus only 20,610 in 1994).


  • The rate of new HIV infections since the turn of the millennium has effectively halved, with 321,500 new infections in 2015, compared to 646,800 in 1999.
  • The rate of still births has declined by 22% since 2001.
  • There are more professional nurses – and those enrolled to be nurses – than ever before. Growth of 50% and 115% respectively between 1998 and 2015.
  • There are 80% more GPs and 29% more specialists practicing in the public sector since 2000.

Crime and security

  • South Africa’s murder rate has halved since 1994/95 – from a rate of 68 murders per 100,000 population, to 34 per 100,000 population in 2015.

“The list of socio-economic successes set out in this report is far from exhaustive. Rather, it lists examples of just
some of the things that have gone right since 1994,” the IRR said.

“This makes the point that as we face the future, we must not lose sight of the fact that life in South Africa today is better than it was twenty years ago.”

Read: How much the average South African household takes home each month

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21 ways life in South Africa has improved since 1994