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

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