For most of the postwar period South Africa has been the largest economy in Africa, with relatively high levels of industrialization, a modern banking and financial sector and a globally significant mining industry. However, today discussion of its economy is dominated by its widespread poverty, high unemployment and extreme inequality - inequality which still exhibits strong racial lines despite the emergence of a new black elite and middle class. Indeed, amongst the countries with reliable measures, South Africa ranks as the most unequal country in the world.
Sam Ashman provides a penetrating and insightful survey of South Africa’s postwar economic history, in particular its economic development since 1994, when the African National Congress came to office and universal adult suffrage was finally introduced.
The book examines both the legacy of the apartheid era political economy, as well as the impact of financial and trade liberalization since the 1990s, and the privatization and corporate restructuring that have, if anything, deepened the structural economic challenges the country now faces. Key features of the economy are examined in turn, including the continuing importance of mining and the export of primary commodities; the liberalization and financialization of the economy and the deindustrialization arising from that; the dominance of oligopolies in major sectors; and the ongoing crises of poverty, unemployment and rising inequality.
Sam Ashman is Associate Professor in the School of Economics at the University of Johannesburg. She is co-editor of The Political Economy of South Africa: The Minerals-Energy Complex Today with Ben Fine, Susan Newman and Zavareh Rustomjee (Oxford University Press, 2019).