This is how much of South Africa’s wealth is in the hands of the super rich

 ·19 Jan 2023

Wealth is heavily concentrated among the super-rich in South Africa, with the country’s top 1% of wealthiest people handling as much as 42% of total wealth.

Taking an even wider view, the top 10% of wealth holders in the country control just over 80% of total wealth – with the balance in the hands of the remaining 90% of the country.

According to the multinational charity group Oxfam International, this is not unique to South Africa and is a wealth trend that can be seen across the world.

In the group’s latest wealth inequality report, published ahead of the gathering of the world’s elite in Davos for the World Economic Forum this week, the richest 1% in the world grabbed nearly two-thirds of all new wealth worth $42 trillion since 2020 – almost twice as much money as the bottom 99% of the world’s population.

According to Oxfam, the world’s billionaires have seen extraordinary increases in their wealth over the last few years.

During the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis years since 2020, $26 trillion (63%) of all new wealth was captured by the richest 1%, while $16 trillion (37%) went to the rest of the world put together.

“A billionaire gained roughly $1.7 million for every $1 of new global wealth earned by a person in the bottom 90%. Billionaire fortunes have increased by $2.7 billion a day. This comes on top of a decade of historic gains —the number and wealth of billionaires having doubled over the last ten years,” the group said.

Billionaire wealth surged in 2022 with rapidly rising food and energy profits. Oxfam’s data shows that 95 food and energy corporations more than doubled their profits in 2022. They made $306 billion in windfall profits and paid out $257 billion (84%) of that to wealthy shareholders.

“At the same time, at least 1.7 billion workers now live in countries where inflation is outpacing wages, and over 820 million people —roughly one in ten people on Earth— are going hungry,” it said.

South Africa

While South Africa’s super-rich makes up a tiny percentage of the global elite – accounting for just 0.2% of the global top 1% earners, according to Credit Suisse’s 2022 World Wealth Database – our local billionaires are still sitting in the pound seats.

Daily wealth tracking by Forbes at the start of 2023 showed that South Africa’s five dollar billionaires weathered the storms of the pandemic years, and some even managed to start the year on better footing than in 2022.

Jan-22 Jan-23 Billionaire Jan-22 net worth Jan-23 net worth Change
217 175 Johann Rupert $10.4 billion $10.3 billion -$0.1 billion
331 229 Nicky Oppenheimer $8.0 billion $8.6 billion +$0.6 billion
1176 1009 Patrice Motsepe $2.8 billion $2.9 billion +$0.1 billion
1324 1147 Koos Bekker $2.5 billion $2.6 billion +$0.1 billion
1856 1987 Michiel le Roux $1.7 billion $1.4 billion -$0.3 billion

Combined, South Africa’s dollar billionaires have a net worth of $25.8 billion – accounting for almost 3% of South Africa’s estimated wealth held by adults in 2021/22.

Put another way, five billionaires in South Africa hold more wealth than the bottom 50% of South Africa.

According to Credit Suisse’s report, the first three deciles (30%) of South Africa’s wealth holders are in negative net-worth territory (in debt). The fourth decile accounts for 0.2% of total wealth, and the fifth holds 1.5%.

Population Decile % of wealth
1 -0.8%
2 -0.7%
3 -0.4%
4 0.2%
5 1.5%
6 2.5%
7 3.4%
8 4.7%
9 8.8%
10 80.8%
Top 10% 80.8%
Top 5% 69.7%
Top 1% 42.0%

The group estimates total wealth held by some 38.1 million adults in South Africa is US$938 billion – averaging US$24,601 per adult. However, in median terms, this sits at just US$5,252 per adult.

To better understand the concentration of wealth in the country, Credit Suisse’s data shows that the top 1% of wealth holders in South Africa account for 42% – or just under US$400 billion of total wealth.

The top 10% accounts for $758 billion – leaving only $180 billion for the rest of the population.

According to the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group (PMEJD), more than half (55.5%) of South Africa’s total population – around 30.4 million people – live below the country’s upper-bound poverty line of R1,417 per month.

More than a quarter (25.2% – or 13.8 million) live below the food poverty line of R663, the group said.

Source: Credit Suisse World Wealth Databook 2022, BusinessTech

Group Adult population Wealth share Wealth ($m) Wealth per adult
Top 1% ~381 330 42.0% $393 960 $1 033 121
Top 5%* ~1 906 650 69.7% $653 786 $342 898
Top 10%** ~3 813 300 80.8% $757 904 $198 753
The rest (90%) ~34 319 700 19.2% $180 096 $5 248
Total ~38 133 000 100.0% $938 000 $24 598

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

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