Social situation Rift between rich and poor

South Africa's policy of apartheid has left a profound mark on the country. Whilst a black middle and upper class has indeed emerged, there are still large sections of the population for whom conditions have not yet improved to any noticeable degree.

People in a slum on the outskirts of Cape Town

People in a slum on the outskirts of Cape Town

People in a slum on the outskirts of Cape Town

Social structures are unstable and crime is alarmingly high compared with other countries. South Africa has one of the world's highest rates of murder and rape.

Poverty and unemployment

More than half the population of South Africa continues to live below the national poverty line. Poverty affects the black population worst. Few other countries have such pronounced disparities of wealth and income as South Africa. According to World Bank statistics for 2014, almost 70 per cent of total income is in the hands of the richest 20 per cent of the population. The poorest 20 per cent own less then three per cent.

Unemployment has reached a record 29 per cent. And almost half of young people aged between 15 and 24 are out of work, according to the World Bank.

Land ownership unevenly distributed

Despite remarkable progress being achieved on water, energy and basic housing provision, there are still areas where public services fall below standard. This is particularly true of areas where the black population lives, the former homelands and townships. The country has been striving for many years to carry out comprehensive land reforms that will benefit the majority black population; the plan, however, is making slow progress. Most fertile farm land is still in the hands of white farmers. The private sector, in particular, has been unsettled by the current debate on expropriation of land without compensation.

Sign of an AIDS prevention campaign at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Sign of an AIDS prevention campaign at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Sign of an AIDS prevention campaign at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa

High HIV prevalence

The spread of HIV and AIDS is a major problem for South Africa's society and economy. Around 7.9 million of the country's 58 million people have HIV. One fifth of people aged between 15 and 49 are HIV-positive. Tied in with this is a tuberculosis epidemic. The infectious disease is one of the biggest killers of AIDS patients in South Africa.

Shortcomings in medical provision and the indecisive HIV/AIDS policy the government pursued for many years are felt to be jointly responsible for the massive social and health policy challenges. Serious efforts to tackle HIV only began a few years ago.

The benefits of improvements in prevention and treatment can already be seen. New cases of HIV fell by 40 per cent between 2010 and 2018 and there were 50 per cent fewer deaths from HIV.