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How Bad is South Africa Actually?

I grew up in the heyday of Apartheid South Africa. In those days, my country was run according to legislation based on race and, more pointedly, one race dictating to another how they will live. You don't have to be a social justice warrior to acknowledge that this was wrong. In 1994, thanks to the efforts of people on both sides of the divide, we got what had eluded us for most of the 20th century – freedom and democracy.

Fast forward to 2023. South Africa today makes headlines for all the wrong reasons. Seemingly, there is not a single public sector in our country that is not in crisis. Corruption. Crime. Inequality. The list goes on and on. It is difficult to be positive about where we are going as a nation. Yet, how bad is it in reality? It is easy to see that, in our mainstream media, there are dark days upon us, brought about by, it seems, a wholly incompetent and corrupt government that inflict upon us, its citizens, misery and hardship while they go about plundering our economy and enriching themselves at our expense.

Okay. Let us take a step back and examine the realities, as they are rather than as MSM and our powers that be would have us believe …


Every year since 1995, an NGO named Transparency International has put out what it calls the Corruption Perceptions Index, or CPI. It lists a collection of 180 countries from around the world, and scores them between 1 – 100. This figure is determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys. The CPI generally defines corruption as "abuse of entrusted power for private gain".

As it turns out, South Africa ranked equal 70th with a score of 44, 100 being the best. At the bottom of the pile, were the nations of Yemen, Venezuela, Somalia, Syria, and South Sudan, all finishing equal on a score of 1. We, as a nation, could do a lot better to be sure. We are still quite a way off the top performers, Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand, with their scores of 88. However, we need to acknowledge that we are a developing nation, and could be doing far worse.


According to Forbes, South Africa is the second most dangerous place to live after Brazil. To most South Africans, this probably comes as no surprise. Our crime statistics are pretty shocking.

According to our last report, as put out by government, from July – September, 2022 (92 days), we had:

- 7004 murders (76 per day)

- 10,590 rapes (115 per day)

- 85,640 assaults (931 per day)

Other crimes like robbery, arson, fraud, et cetera, showed worrying double-digit increases when compared to previous years. There was also an increase in vigilantism, indicating a general lack of faith in policing structures, as they exist.

The South African government, in an attempt to curb violent crimes, has bizarrely decided to make it more difficult for the average law abiding citizen to get their hands on firearms, saying that self defence will no longer be considered a valid reason for their acquisition. This is ironic considering that more than 9000 firearms went missing from police precincts in the previous year.

South Africa is clearly a very violent society, and our government is failing quite completely in its mandate to protect us. From where I am sitting, it is surprising that we, as a nation, do not suffer more the ill effects of PTSD and general depression, considering the current state of affairs.


South Africa has nearly 26,000 schools, 400,000 teachers and close to 13 million learners. We also have one of the most unequal school systems in the world. The gap in test scores between the top 20% and the rest is wider than in almost every other country. On the one hand, we have functional, wealthy schools. And on the other hand, 85% of our kids attend poorly funded, dysfunctional schools.

In 2018, out of 23,471 public schools, 20,071 had no laboratory, 18,019 had no library, 16,897 had no Internet connection, 239 had no electricity, and 37 had no sanitation facilities at all. When you consider that these statistics came from our own Department of Education themselves, government is well aware of their failure to fulfil their mandate to provide all our children with quality education. At best, they are simply unable to meet these demands. At worst, they simply don't care.

When you consider then our basic education minister, Angie Motshekga, a woman who, according to Google, holds an education degree from Wits University was quoted as telling grade 12 pupils that "you're less likely to rape now that you have reached and completed a grade 12 education", it is not surprising that many parents hold their heads in their hands, wondering where competence will appear from.


Unemployment refers to the share of the labour force that is without work but available for and seeking employment. In South Africa, the unemployment rate for 2021 was 33.56%, a 4.34% increase from 2020.

However, when you factor in firstly, the dropout rate from formal education, as well as those who have merely given up looking for a job, the picture is far bleaker. I maintain that in South Africa, we do not have an unemployment crisis but, rather, an unemployability crisis.

According to Stats SA, in 2021 close to 3% of 15-year-olds and nearly 9% of 17-year-olds dropped out of school. The general household survey (2021) indicated that although most 18 and 19-year-olds were still attending secondary school, almost 3/10 pupils aged 18 years (29.3%) and 4/9 (46.3%) of 19-year-olds had dropped out of school. The majority of 20-year-olds were not in education, with approximately 23% attending university, TVET or other colleges, while 18% were still attending high school.

The most prominent reasons for non-attendance at school in 2021 included illness and disability (22.7%), poor academic performance (21.2%) and lack of money for fees (19.6%). Reasons given for dropping out of school differ by gender, especially for females who have to stop attending school due to family commitments (13.4%), while close to 5% of males stop attending because they had no interest in education.

And here is the problem, then. LSM 1 – 3 job opportunities are saturated. What South Africa needs are skilled professionals, entrepreneurs, and people with experience in technical or scientific fields. The sad reality is that we are simply not producing enough of these. Government tries to provide relief for those unemployed people by providing them with welfare grants, but when you consider that 15% of the population is subsidising the other 85% in this way, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognise that this is unsustainable. And the tax base is shrinking each year.

Black Tax

If everything I have mentioned thus far weren't enough, the majority of our people live under cultural obligations that are not only stifling but are, at their essence, one of the reasons why it has been so difficult for them to emerge out of poverty.

For example, if a black man finds a job, it is not out of the realm of possibility to see him give over his entire first salary cheque to his mother. After that, his first priority within his culture is to buy his mother a house. It is expected that he would do this before he bought his own, or invested in a personal means of transport.

Also, in certain black cultures, when a boy reaches the age of 18, he would attend and initiation school for the purposes of undergoing circumcision. It is a rite of passage into manhood and something which carries a heavy stigma if not fulfilled. The costs to the family run into tens of thousands of rand and, for a single mother merely scraping by, she would usually take out a loan from a loan shark at an exorbitant interest rate, often taking decades to repay that person.

The lived reality of a black South African, trying to fulfil his or her obligation to their culture, their community, or their family, is something which most white people in this country either know very little about, or have very little comprehension of in terms of what it means to that person. We who come from a white suburban paradigm of thinking will never have a full understanding of how disparate our points of departure are from our black brothers and sisters.

Where to from here?

I believe that our government's insistence on treating us as groupings within a collective is never going to help us to achieve our individual aspirations. But, this is how it is when you have to deal with a communist mind. Our government wants to be a nanny state, protecting its voter demographic of choice by vilifying the others. It will never admit that it is wholly incapable of running a country. It will never concede that the previous administration did it better, even when stripping away Apartheid policy. In fact, they will try to emulate the previous administration, albeit under different headings and pretexts.

For me, as a man living with a disability with a pale complexion, I have made peace with the idea that my government doesn't care about me at all. I have conceded that, in order to distinguish myself in life with dignity and meaning, I am wholly on my own. Yes, I have had great mentors, fantastic teachers, and extremely generous family members extend hands up to me at times when I felt overwhelmed or incapable. But I had to do the work. I had to go from a mindset of being a victim of circumstance, to being someone who takes ownership of my future, and plans for its eventuality on my own terms.

As a South African, I had a choice to make. I could either give up and take whatever welfare the government would extend to me, or I could say to myself, I refuse to quit, I refuse to live anything other than my best life, and I will get there, no matter what it takes.

I am not there yet, but I am well on my way.

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