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Key findings
  • More than eight in 10 South Africans (83%) say the country is heading in “the wrong direction,” a 37-percentage-point increase compared to 2011 (46%).
  • Fewer than two in 10 citizens (17%) describe the country’s economic condition as good, while 71% say it is bad. Close to half (45%) of citizens rate their personal living conditions negatively. The share of citizens who describe the country’s economic condition as “fairly bad” or “very bad” has increased by 24 percentage points since 2011. Poor citizens are far more likely than the well-off to offer negative appraisals of the economy (81% vs. 60%) and their own living conditions (72% vs. 18%). Only about one-fourth (27%) of respondents expect economic conditions to improve in the near future.
  • Overwhelming majorities are dissatisfied with the government’s performance on key economic measures, including keeping prices stable (93%), creating jobs (90%), narrowing gaps between rich and poor (89%), and managing the economy (81%).

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, South Africa’s economy was growing slowly as  unemployment continued to rise and the country’s world-record inequality gap continued to  widen (World Bank, 2023). The pandemic triggered a massive economic slowdown in 2020.  Severe lockdown measures intended to limit the spread of the virus resulted in reduced  economic activity and job losses (Arndt & Robinson, 2020). 

The country’s economic revival has been slow and bumpy: Gross domestic product growth  was 1.9% in 2022 and only 0.6% in 2023 (Statistics South Africa, 2024). While the finance and  transport industries have shown resilience and growth, most others continue to struggle  (Statistics South Africa, 2024).  

Underlying structural challenges hamper inclusive economic growth and exacerbate social  and political pressures (Access Bank, 2022). These include poor-quality education, a  persistent skills shortage, labor-market rigidity, deteriorating infrastructure, and escalating  corruption and violence (Meyer, 2017). The Russia-Ukraine war has added higher costs of  living, particularly for essentials such as energy and staple foods. 

In trying to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on households and firms, the South African government stepped up its spending to support small and medium-sized enterprises with  loans and introduced emergency social transfers, which are still in place (Government of  South Africa, 2020). 

Through a newly established unit, Operation Vulindlela (2022), the government embarked on  a series of reforms to open key markets to greater private-sector participation, including in  energy, logistics, and other network industries. Whether these reforms will be stalled or sped  up under the new coalition government remains to be seen. 

What do South Africans say about the country’s economic condition, their personal living  conditions, and the previous government’s performance on economic issues? 

Findings from Afrobarometer’s 2022 survey show that South Africans overwhelmingly think  their country is heading in the wrong direction. Fewer than two in 10 citizens say the country’s  economic condition is good, and only about one in four expect things to improve in the near  future. Large majorities give the government failing marks on key economic issues.

Nyasha Mpani

Nyasha Mpani is project leader for the Data for Governance Alliance Project, based at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

Stephen Ndoma

Stephen is the assistant project manager for Southern Africa