How much money the richest 1% in South Africa control

Multinational charity group Oxfam International has released its annual wealth inequality report, ahead of the World Economic Forum’s virtual Davos 2021 agenda starting this week.

The group’s annual report focuses on the concentration of wealth globally, with its 2021 edition claiming that “inequality kills” while calling for unprecedented action to tackle unprecedented inequality in the wake of Covid-19.

It highlights how the wealth of billionaires has exploded over the past two years as the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic continued to ravage the poor – with researchers saying obscene levels of inequality between the super-rich of the top 1% and the rest of society directly lead to millions of deaths.

Oxfam said that, conservatively, inequality contributes to the deaths of at least 21,000 people every day, based on deaths worldwide from lack of access to healthcare, gender-based violence, hunger and climate degradation.

“The wealth of billionaires has increased more since the onset of Covid-19 than it has in the past 14 years. At $5 trillion, this is the largest increase in the wealth of billionaires since records began,” he said. “Billionaires have had a terrible pandemic. ended up lining the pockets of billionaires in the midst of a stock market boom.

“Vaccines were supposed to end this pandemic, but wealthy governments allowed billionaires and pharmaceutical monopolies to cut off supply to billions of people. The result is that every conceivable form of inequality is likely to increase. The predictability of this one is sickening. The consequences kill some,” the group said.

Among its findings, the charity group pointed out that:

  • The wealth of the 10 richest people has doubled since the start of the pandemic – while the incomes of 99% of humanity are worse off, due to Covid-19.
  • The 10 richest people in the world own more than the poorest 3.1 billion people, combined.
  • If the 10 richest billionaires each spent $1 million a day, it would take them 414 years to spend their combined wealth.
  • If the 10 richest billionaires sat on top of their combined wealth piled high in US dollar bills, they would be almost half way to the moon.
  • A windfall tax of 99% on the Covid-19 wealth gains of the richest 10 alone would leave them still $8 billion more than they were before the pandemic.

Oxfam recommended permanent taxes on the wealth and capital of the rich as a solution to growing inequality around the world and said governments should use proceeds from progressive spending for universal health care and social protection, climate change adaptation and gender-based violence prevention and programming.

South Africa

South African billionaires have also been the net beneficiaries of the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic, with the country’s five listed dollar billionaires seeing their collective wealth increase by $4.8 billion between 2020 and 2022, a gain of 23 %.

Using Oxfam’s measurements, South Africa’s richest person, Johann Rupert, could spend $1 million a day for the next 28 years before his wealth runs out. If he were to spend locally – in rand – he could spend 1 million rand a day for the next 440 years.

According to the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group (PMBEJD), more than half of South Africa’s population – 30.4 million people – currently live below the upper poverty line of R1,335, or R45 a day.

A quarter of the population – around 14 million – live below the food poverty line of R624 per month, or R21 per day.

Billionaire Jan 20 net worth Jan 22 net worth Change
John Rupert $6.5 billion $10.4 billion +$3.9 billion
Nicky Oppenheimer $7.7 billion $8.0 billion +0.3 billion dollars
Patrice Motsepe $2.6 billion $2.8 billion +0.2 billion dollars
Koos Bekker $2.8 billion $2.5 billion No change
Michel le Roux $1.3 billion $1.7 billion +0.4 billion dollars
Total $20.5 billion $25.4 billion +$3.8 billion

Looking at South Africa’s broader wealth, financial group Credit Suisse’s 2021 Wealth Databook shows that the country’s top 1% currently hold around 41% of the country’s total wealth – estimated in 2021 at $763 billion. of dollars. This is a significant increase from the 35% recorded in 2019.

This elite group of around 376,000 people – based on an adult population of 37.6 million – controls around $311 billion of South Africa’s total wealth. On average it is $828,000 per person (R11.8 million).

Those numbers are up from 2019, when the data was last recorded by Credit Suisse, where the average 1% was worth $750,000 at the time. Over the same period, total wealth in South Africa has shrunk by around $35 billion.

Breaking down the Credit Suisse data further, it is evident that South Africa’s wealth is heavily concentrated among the super-rich. About 80% of total wealth is owned by 10% of the adult population, but most of it is owned by the top 1%.

According to Credit Suisse, wealth per adult stood at around $20,300 (R289,300) at the end of 2020. However, wealth per adult in the top 1% averages $828,000 – among the richest 10% average $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 of only $4,500. This lines up with data from Credit Suisse which records median wealth per adult in South Africa at $4,523.

Group Adult population Wealth Sharing 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 top 5% and top 1%


Read: The richest people in South Africa at the start of 2022

James V. Hayes