Country Profile South Africa

South Africa

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South Africa

Last updated: January 2023

South Africa’s economic growth significantly lags the African regional average. Ongoing political tensions, fiscal and external liquidity constraints, and high unemployment weigh on investment and growth. Nevertheless, South Africa outperforms most regional peers on measures of per capita income, creditworthiness and business climate.

At a Glance

The above chart is a cobweb diagram showing how a country measures up on four important dimensions of economic performance—per capita income, annual GDP growth, business climate rank and creditworthiness. Per capita income is in current US dollars. Annual GDP growth is the five-year average forecast between 2023 and 2027. Business climate is measured by the World Bank’s 2019 Ease of Doing Business ranking of 190 countries. Creditworthiness attempts to measure a country's ability to honour its external debt obligations and is measured by its OECD country credit risk rating. The chart shows not only how a country performs on the four dimensions, but how it measures up against other countries in the region.

Economic outlook

The lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, flooding in Kwa-Zulu Natal, and widespread electricity cuts contributed to supply chain disruptions and damage to factories in 2022 that weakened an already fragile economy. South Africa’s economy grew 2.6% in 2022, slower than 4.9% in 2021. 

The OECD forecasts real GDP to grow by just 1.2% in 2023. Private consumption and investment will continue to be the main drivers of growth. Household consumption will be supported by improving, albeit still weak, labour market conditions and social security transfer payments. Private investment will increase as companies replace an increasingly obsolete capital stock. On the downside, prices for South Africa’s key commodities are likely to fall in the short term, which alongside a slowing global economy, will weigh on export receipts.

Risks to the outlook include prolonged electricity shortages, a sharper global slowdown and more persistent high inflation that prompts faster monetary tightening than expected.

South Africa’s young population and location bode well for the long-term outlook, even in the face of a slowing birth rate. South Africa has better infrastructure than most other African countries. Moreover, the government has advanced several reforms, including for instance to combat corruption, to promote medium-term growth and fiscal consolidation. But long-standing economic, and financial social constraints, including large external imbalances, high public debt, intermittent energy supply, and heavy reliance on commodities are all likely to keep growth below 2% per annum in the medium term. 

GDP Growth

South African per capita income rose significantly during the global commodity price and investment boom in the 2000s. But incomes have fallen steadily in the past decade amid weak GDP growth and high unemployment (32.9% in the third quarter of 2022). In the longer term, rising poverty and high youth unemployment will remain a challenge in addressing economic and social disparities. Moreover, deterioration in real wage growth—as nominal wages grow slower than the inflation rate—is a significant challenge to improving living standards.

Capita GDP

Country risk

Country risk in South Africa is moderate. The OECD country credit grade is 4, akin to a sub-investment grade sovereign rating. This indicates a moderate likelihood that South Africa will be unable and/or unwilling to meet its external debt obligations. South Africa’s high and rising government debt and persistent low growth and income inequality will continue to complicate fiscal consolidation and constrain overall creditworthiness.

Risk Ratings

The risk of expropriation is broadly in line with South Africa’s overall country risk rating. The US investment guide notes existing laws entitle the government to expropriate private property for reasons of public necessity or utility. At present, investors have the right to receive compensation following an expropriation. A proposal to change the constitution to explicitly allow the expropriation of land with no compensation did not pass parliament in December 2021.

Expropriation Risk

South Africa scores in the top half of countries on all dimensions of governance, except political stability and absence of violence. Political risk is moderate, reflecting public discontent around increasing economic hardship, energy shortages and public sector corruption that all threatens governability in the run-up to the 2024 Presidential election.

Governance Indicators
Political Risk

Bilateral relations

South Africa was Australia’s 30th largest trading partner in 2021. Total goods and services trade amounted to about $3.1 billion in 2021, or 0.3% of Australia’s bilateral trading relationship. Australia’s main exports to South Africa include coal, wheat, aluminium metals, and ore (including alumina), precious metals and specialised machinery and parts. Major Australian imports include passenger motor vehicles, engineering equipment and machinery, and copper.

Bilateral Trade

South African student enrolments in Australia have held up through the pandemic due in large part to remote learning, a trend that continued in 2022. As international travel restrictions have eased, South African tourism into Australia recovered through 2022. Another year of open international borders and pent-up demand for travel should support further recovery in tourism, and broader services exports, in 2023.

Student Enrolments
Tourist Arrivals

South Africa is Australia's most significant investment partner in the Sub-Saharan African region. South Africa is a considerable investor in Australia; for example, Safika Holdings invested in Brisbane Valley Protein—its first Australian agricultural investment—in 2019. Meanwhile, ASX listed companies collectively are the largest investors in South Africa’s mining sector. Rio Tinto, South32, MC Mining and MRC Australia all have active mining operations, and Orion Minerals and Theta Gold have active exploration projects. COVID−19 restrictions have highlighted digital opportunities in the education sector. For example, IDEA Digital Education provides low-cost educational services to students across grades R-12.

South Africa Investment in Australia
Australian Investment in South Africa