South Africa is no stranger to the harsh realities of wealth inequality. Despite being one of the continent’s most industrialised nations, the disparity between the rich and poor remains stark. 

​​This evening at 6 p.m., The Big Debate on SABC3 will explore this pressing issue in depth, focusing specifically on how mining and finance, industries that generate immense wealth for the few, also contribute to widespread poverty for the many. 

South Africa’s mining sector has long been a cornerstone of the national economy, contributing significantly to GDP and employment. However, the industry is also synonymous with exploitation and inequality. While mining companies and a select few benefit enormously, the majority of miners live in poverty, often working under hazardous conditions for meagre wages. 

The tragic Marikana massacre of 2012, where 34 miners were killed during a strike for better wages, starkly highlighted the severe inequalities within the mining sector. At the heart of this incident was the deep chasm between the mining companies’ profits and the miners’ living conditions.

The finance industry, on the other hand, paints a different picture of wealth concentration. The sector has seen exponential growth, particularly in the post-apartheid era, creating a new class of ultra-wealthy individuals. However, this wealth has not trickled down. The top 0.01% of the population, just 3,500 individuals, owns about 15% of all wealth circulating in South Africa, leaving the rest of the population in a state of financial distress. 

Although the end of apartheid brought with it electoral equality, income equality remains a persistent challenge in democratic South Africa. The Gini Coefficient measures income inequality within a population. It is a numerical value between 0 and 1, where 0 represents perfect equality (everyone has the same income) and 1 represents perfect inequality (one person has all the income, and everyone else has none). Since 1993 the Gini Coefficient has increased from an already high 0.59 to an even more unequal 0.67 in 2022. 

While these numbers are daunting, they only look at income. When measuring wealth inequality the picture becomes even worse. According to Imraan Valodia, the Director of the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies at Wits, the net wealth of the top 1% is about R17.8 million, whereas the bottom 50% are in a negative wealth position, burdened with more debt than assets.

Addressing this issue requires multifaceted solutions. South Africa needs policies that create more jobs, boost incomes for those at the lower end, and make sure that economic growth reaches those who need it most. Redistribution policies, along with better access to education and skills training, are essential steps for creating wealth equality. But policy alone will not tackle this astronomical issue.  

Tune in tonight at 6 pm on SABC3 or live on YouTube to catch The Big Debate, where an expert panel will delve into the heart of South Africa’s wealth inequality. With perspectives from activists, researchers, and industry experts, the discussion promises to unpack wealth inequality with the people’s perspective as the focal point for potential solutions.

The Big Debate is a South African current affairs show airing for its 12th season. This town hall debate show has been on air for 15 years, with this season coinciding with the national elections. Explain is thrilled to be partnering with The Big Debate to cover the series as it unpacks these issues.