I have heard claims, that there is a strong correlation between the end of the Apartheid in South Africa, and an economic decline there. Does this have any factual basis?

More concretely, did any or more of the following happen at, or very shortly after the end of the Apartheid:

  • falling GDP, either in an absolute way, or compared to other countries in the region
  • significantly increasing crime rates
  • increasing poverty rates

I know this is a sensitive topic, so please, remain at the cold, hard numbers. No political or ideological monologuing from ANY side, please.

  • 1
    Do you have a better claim than "I have heard?". A newspage, or anything similar.
    – Wertilq
    Jul 22, 2013 at 14:04
  • @Wertilq : not unless I start searching for some. Usually it comes up in forum discussions (where neither side seems to be an expert on the topic), but I doubt even some news articles would be of any help. I'm not an economist, so I don't know if there is a "some experts claim..." in a news article, without mentioning the source or any objective data, where to confirm or refute it.
    – vsz
    Jul 22, 2013 at 14:19
  • Quote the forums where it is brought up then. ANYTHING is better than nothing.
    – Wertilq
    Jul 22, 2013 at 14:26
  • @Sancho: maybe yes, maybe no, but that is not what I'm interested in. Just whether it is based on real data or not.
    – vsz
    Jul 22, 2013 at 17:56
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    @vsz: There is some confusion here. You are looking for references with firm evidence that support the claim. Answers require those. Wertliq is just looking for references that show that people are making this claim, so we can check for misunderstandings, speculations and straw-men. Questions generally required those.
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 23, 2013 at 6:09

4 Answers 4



It is easy to find the figures for South African GDP. As you can see:

  • GDP for 1994 (the year of the end of Apartheid) rose compared with 1993
  • GDP for 1995 rose compared with 1994
  • GDP generally declined from 1995 to 2002
  • GDP rose very strongly from 2002 to the present (with one year of decline coinciding with the general world recession)

It should be remembered that there was extreme turmoil in South Africa in the years leading up to the end of Apartheid, and was being boycotted by many nations.

I'm not sure what conclusions you are attempting to draw from these figures. But unquestionably the end of Apartheid has not negatively impacted South African growth, either immediately after or in the long term.


The figures quoted here show significant decreases in the murder rate from 1994 to the present.

The murder rate [...] has fallen from 66.9 per 100,000 people in 1994–95 to 37.3 in 2008–09.[8] From 2003–2009, crime decreased significantly according to official police data. Between 1994 and 2009, the murder rate reduced by 50% to 34 murders per 100,000 people. The annual crime statistics released in 2011 show a continuing downward trend, except for rape, which went up by 2.1%.


South Africa's fate after the end of the apartheid got determined by AIDS. In 1990 the HIV rate among pregnant woman was 0.8% and in 1993 it was 4.3% in 1997 it was 17.0%. The high point of South African lifespan was in 1992 with 62 years. By 2005 AIDS had killed enough people that average lifespan declined to 52 years.

That a lot. If you look at the effects of world war two on French lifespan, French lifespan was at 60 years on 1939 and at 65 years on 1949.

If you however look at GDP/person. It declined before end of Apartheid. In 1981 it was at 8800 and it's low was at 7150 in 1993. This was partly due to trade embargos against the apartheid regime. After apartheid ended it rose. In 2003 it was at 7850. That's not a high amount of growth but it's better than the economic decline that happened in the previous years. AIDS kills people in their working years. If AIDS didn't kill that many people the economy would have grown much better.

In total you could say that the stuggle for the end of apartheid produced a lot of problems for South Africa in the years before apartheid was abolished. If South Africa wouldn't have been torn before they ended apartheid, they might have responded more effectively to the threat of Aids and also had economic growth in the 1980th.

Even after apartheid was abolished the topic of AIDS didn't get enough attention and the situation worsened through the 1990th and early 2000ths. Former South African president Mbeki did question whether HIV causes AIDS. If South African political leadership would have been more open to the views of the Western scientific elite on AIDS, fewer people would have died in South Africa and the economy of South Africa would be better off.

The ironic think is that the goal of achieving equality didn't succeed. Inequality rose from a Gini index of 59 in 1993 to 63 in 2003. Even through the leader of the struggle against apartheid had a goal of economic equality the opposite happened. Naomi Klein gives a good description of how the struggle for equality got effectively abandoned due to calculations of realpolitiks.


There is parallels to how communism in ended in Russia and how Apartheid ended in South Africa. To put it plainly South Africa was broke. Very few countries where willing to do business with them. They simple could not have continued on with these massive trade embargoes in effect.

They simply had to do something to revive the economy. FW De Klerk knew this and the only way he could foresee the prevention of this decline was accepting Democracy.

falling GDP, either in an absolute way, or compared to other countries in the region

This is simply not true. For a good long time in the early noughties SA's Economy was growing by 3 - 5%. Which had never happened before. They took a knock when the recession came but still not as bleak as some other countries in the world.

significantly increasing crime rates.

Take this article for instance from the Mail & Guardian

While many believe Jo'burg is the most dangerous city to live in, in SA, the reality is very different. Lizette Lancaster explains why. While murder is often used as the main indicator to support arguments that South Africa is a violent country, it makes up only 2.5% of all violent crime. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Despite a lot of people thinking that Johannesburg is the most dangerous metropolitan city to live in, in South Africa, the reality is quite different. Consider that between April 2011 and March 2012, police recorded more murders in Cape Town than in Johannesburg and Pretoria combined. This means that taking population into account, Cape Town residents are almost twice (1.8 times) more likely to be murdered than Johannesburg residents.

Yet this information is potentially misleading because the likelihood of being a victim of crime depends in large part on race, gender, age, economic profile and whereabouts in a city a person lives. For example, almost two-thirds of the Cape Town murders took place in just 10 of the 60 police station precincts in the city, according to an analysis of crime hotspots we carried out at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

For years, Mitchell's Plain experienced the highest violence and property crime rates in the country. With the recent surge in gang violence, Mitchell's Plain and surrounding areas clearly require in-depth multi-disciplinary intervention. The Cape Town residential areas of Nyanga, Khayelitsha, Gugulethu and Harare remain the most murderous in the peninsula, according to an analysis which takes population size into account. These areas have experienced abnormally high murder rates for more than a decade.

Low-income areas most affected Similarly, countrywide analysis of police precinct statistics suggests that income levels matter. Residents in low-income areas, the analysis shows, are far more likely to be murdered than their middle and high-income counterparts. Half of South Africa's murders occur in only 13% or 143 out of 1 127 of police precincts.

A vast majority of the average of 43 murders that take place daily do not make the news. They happen in areas where crime and violence are part of the daily despair of residents who already feel marginalised and forgotten by media and politicians. The majority of murders are not premeditated or committed as part of a crime, like a robbery, but occur when an argument leads to physical assault.

Research shows that most victims are killed by acquaintances, friends or family members during disputes overwhelmingly fuelled by alcohol and in some occasions, drug abuse. Victimisation surveys, police docket surveys and mortuary surveillance studies reveal that the most victims of murder in South Africa are young black men. And studies reveal that most murdered women are killed by their intimate partners. And that men are six times more likely to be killed than women.

People tend to focus on our national murder rate, which is four and a half times higher than the global average of 6.9 per 100 000 people. Yet, some 13% of police precincts in South Africa have murder rates below this rate. These areas include affluent ones such as Brooklyn (Pretoria), Garsfontein (Pretoria), Camps Bay, Claremont, Rondebosch (Cape Town), Edenvale and Linden (Gauteng). Meanwhile, residents of suburbs like Sandton, Parkview (Johannesburg), Durban North, Table View and Woodstock (Cape Town) and others have a murder rate of fewer than 10 per 100 000.

Over 10% of our policing precincts – more than 115 stations – have a zero murder rate. Three in four murders occur in just a quarter of the country's police station areas.

While murder is often used as the main indicator to support arguments that South Africa is a violent country, it makes up only 2.5% of all violent crime. While there were 15 609 murders last year, a total of 607 877 other violent crimes including attempted murder, rape, robbery and assault were also reported to the police. When violent crime hotspots are analysed, central business districts remain the most high-risk areas in terms of violence in general, and specifically for robberies. The clear front-runner is Johannesburg Central, followed by Durban Central, Pietermaritzburg, Cape Town Central and Pretoria Central. These areas also experience very high property crime rates.


It seems that you cannot make generalizations when it comes to crime in SA. Their are place that are crime ridden and others where you can live in peace. As it is in most places in the world poverty plays a central role.

increasing poverty rates

This may not be true as Government grants and unemployment insurance tries to rectify it. Also the black middle class is very much real and that is something that did not exist in 94.

For a developing country South Africa has a well-established social welfare system and a large proportion of social spending goes towards social grants. According to Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan's budget speech "substantial growth in social spending over the past decade has financed a threefold increase in the number of people receiving social grants" and over 15 million people in South Africa now receive cash transfers from the state. Since the gradual extension of the Child Support Grant to children up to the age of 18, spending on social assistance has increased an average of 11% per year and will increase to R120 billion in the 2014/15 financial year.


  • 1
    Thanks for the new references, but they aren't terribly relevant. You say South Africa was broke (at the tail end of the Apartheid era), but you don't show that. Your long quote about crime figures is about where the crime is, but doesn't address the question - did it rise after the end of Apartheid? The existence of the black middle class (which you don't demonstrate) and the increase in social welfare (from 2003-2013? We need data from 1993-2003!) are not answers to the question about poverty rates.
    – Oddthinking
    Oct 29, 2013 at 9:41

It is very simplistic to associate GDP changes to the regime change of apartheid. Much more important than that are commodity price trends that include precious metals and agricultural commodities, and livestock. If you see the price trends of commodities you will see that they tended to decline throughout the 1990s, especially between 1995 and 2002. This effect hit the world as a whole. The price of the dollar increased and commodities decreased. It had tremendous consequences.

As the price of the dollar rose, the price of gold, platinum, palladium, copper, lead, aluminum, oil, gasoline, heating oil, natural gas, pork bellies, lean hogs, etc. tended to decline decreasing the GDP of South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, India, the Gulf States and many other countries which were not counting on it. Not only that, but the East Asian countries that held their currency fixed to the dollar had to abandon the peg with full-fledged financial crisis as a consequence.

So please do not attribute GDP change in South Africa to apartheid.


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