SAHRC: SA is most unequal country in world

SAHRC says SA is the most unequal country in the world - with 64% of black South Africans, 41% of coloured people, 6% of Indian people and 1% of white people living in poverty.

Senior researcher for Equality at SAHRC Shanelle van der Berg presenting the inequality report on 12 July 2018. Picture: Kgomotso Modise/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) says while income inequality marginally decreased by 0.01% in the past four years, the gap in wealth inequality continues to widen in the country.

The commission delivered the 2017/2018 equality report on Thursday morning.

The report is based on tools at the government's disposal to address economic inequality through radical economic transformation.

According to the commission, South Africa remains the most unequal country in the world - with 64% of black South Africans, 41% of coloured people, 6% of Indian people and 1% of white people living in poverty.

Researcher Shanelle van der Berg says economic inequality and status-based inequality are inextricably linked.

“If we look at the NDP poverty and quality related target, the living above the poverty line population has increased, margining from 39% to 40%.”

She says the wealth inequality gap is widening as a result of the failure of application of affirmative action by the government

“What’s lacking is a central coordinating body that can keep an eye on the implementation of the affirmative action.”

Van der Berg says with a Gini coefficient where zero represents a perfectly equal society, and one represents an unequal society in terms of wealth, South Africa’s Gini coefficient is 0.95 - just 0.5 short of being perfectly unequal.


The commission says the increase in value-added tax (VAT) is a threat to various human rights and a burden to be carried by the poor.

In February, VAT jumped from 14% to 15% after an announcement by former Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba.

Van der Berg says other options to mitigate the effects of an increase in VAT on the poor should have been looked into.

“The commission understands that there was a R15 billion shortfall in the budget and that difficult fiscal policy choices had to be made, however, the issue of the basket of zero-rated goods, as well as the benching of the protection of social services, should have been investigated before.”

She says government’s conduct in this respect points to a failure to perceive fiscal policy choices, including taxation as being integral to human rights policy.

The commission has recommended that the government review its tax system and investigate how social protection in the form of grants can be expanded in favour of the poor.


The SAHRC says demographics in the labour market show that the private sector is failing to contribute to the process of transformation.

It says its research has demonstrated that the labour market remains segregated in terms of race, gender and disability status, especially at highly skilled management levels.

The commission says the number of people in the workforce is also concerning, with the 2% mark stated by the Labour Act still not met both in the private and public sector.

Van der Berg says white males still occupy majority senior management positions at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed companies.

“In that context of the economy, we see a new pattern of inequality emerging in that white women hold mere 4% of the directorship but white males still exceed black-African ownership of the economy in the labour market.”

(Edited by Winnie Theletsane)