How much you need to be worth to be one of South Africa’s richest 1%

 ·17 Jan 2024

South Africa has the worst economic inequality in the world, with the wealthiest 1% owning close to all of the nation’s shares and stocks, according to Oxfam International’s latest Ineqaulity Inc. report.

Oxfam publishes its wealth studies every year in the same week that world leaders and business minds gather for the World Economic Forum in Davos, presenting a counter view to the conference, which tends to cater to the global elite.

In its 2024 report, Oxfam focused on the growing divide and inequalities between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, noting that the years since 2020 have been incredibly tough for the majority of people across the world – but not the super-wealthy.

“The 2020s, which started with Covid-19 and then saw escalating conflict, the acceleration of the climate crisis and surging costs of living, appear to be turning into a decade of division,” Oxfam International said.

“Poverty in the poorest countries is still higher than it was in 2019. Worldwide prices are outpacing pay, meaning hundreds of millions of people are struggling to make their earnings stretch further each month. Protests, strikes and other action by workers have repeatedly made the news headlines as people strive to survive.”

Notably, Oxfam International said that the gap between the Global North and the Global South has grown for the first time in 25 years, with global inequality now at the level found in South Africa – the most economically unequal society in the world.

Across the globe, the super-rich are incredibly likely to own corporations.

In the USA, the richest 0.1% own 19.8% of shares owned by households, the richest 1% own 44.6%, while the poorest 50% own just 1%.

Across the 24 OECD countries, the richest 10% of households own 85% of total capital-ownership assets, such as shares in companies, mutual funds and other businesses, while the bottom 40% own just 4%.

South Africa’s richest

In South Africa, the picture is much worse, with the richest 1% (~350,000 adults) owning more than 95% of bonds and corporate shares.

Even more alarmingly, the richest 0.01% (~3,500 adults) in South Africa own 62.7% of these assets, Oxfam said.

Oxfam’s data on South Africa is based on a 2020 White Paper by the United Nations looking at the wider distribution of household wealth in South Africa, using only the adult population.

While the concentration of bonds and shares among the richest in the country is extremely high, when accounting for total wealth (including housing, pensions, business assets, etc), the figures are more diluted.

Considering all wealth, South Africa’s richest 1% controls just under 55% of the total, with the 0.01% just under 15%.

For greater context, the UN whitepaper listed the wealth thresholds for the top 1% at a total wealth of R17.8 million across all assets, while the top 0.01% was listed as total wealth above R486 million (both in 2018 rands).

“It is clear that ownership of stocks and shares reflects an economic plutocracy rather than an economic democracy,” Oxfam International said.

Read: CEO vs lowest-paid worker salaries in South Africa

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