This graph shows how wealth is distributed in South Africa – and how much the 1% really control

 ·24 Jun 2021

Global financial group Credit Suisse has published its latest Global Wealth Report for 2021, showing that wealth in the country is becoming increasingly more concentrated at the top – with the country’s richest 1% holding more of the money than before.

According to the group’s Wealth Databook, South Africa’s richest 1% currently hold about 41% of the country’s total wealth – estimated in 2021 at $763 billion. This is up significantly from the 35% recorded in 2019.

This elite group of around 376,000 people – based on the adult population of 37.6 million – control around $311 billion of South Africa’s total wealth. Averaged out, this is $828,000 per person (R11.8 million).

These figures are up from 2019 when the data was last recorded by Credit Suisse, where the average one-percenter was worth $750,000 at the time. Over the same period, total wealth in South Africa declined by around $35 billion.

Breaking down Credit Suisse’s data further, it’s apparent that South Africa’s wealth is highly concentrated among the super-rich. Approximately 80% of total wealth is held by 10% of the adult population – but the biggest chunk of this is held by the top 1%.

This can best be explained on a per-adult basis.

According to Credit Suisse, wealth per adult in South Africa overall amounted to roughly $20,300 (R289,300) at the end of 2020. However, wealth per adult in the top 1% averages $828,000;  among the top 10%, it averages $162,000.

Looking at the balance, the remaining 90% of the population controls only 20% of the country’s wealth and has a wealth per adult figure of only $4,500. This aligns with Credit Suisse’s data which records the median wealth per adult in South Africa at $4,523.

Group Adult population Wealth share Wealth ($m) Wealth per adult
Top 1% ~376 000 40.8% $311 304 $827 900
Top 5% ~1 880 000 68.5% $522 655 $278 000
Top 10%* ~3 760 000 79.9% $609 637 $162 000
The rest (90%) ~33 840 000 20.1% $153 363 $4 500
Total ~37 600 000 100.0% $763 000 $20 300

* Top 10% figures include the top 5% and top 1% numbers

Even as wealth becomes more concentrated at the top, South Africa as a whole is getting poorer, Credit Suisse’s data shows.

Globally, the broad category of wealth that represents the middle class is the $10,000 to $100,000 range. Only 20.2% of South Africans currently fall into this category, down significantly from 32.2% in 2019.

At the same time, the number of South Africans worth less than $10,000 has increased to almost 76% of the adult population, from 65% before.

Rich South Africans are also dropping out of the global 10%, with the country recording some of the biggest losses here. Credit Suisse recorded a loss of around 113,000 South Africans who dropped out of the global 10%, with only 1.1 million individuals forming part of the global elite, from 1.2 million before.

Among the global top 1%, there are 54,000 South Africans who qualify, up from 51,000 in 2019.

Read: South Africa continues to lose thousands of millionaires

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