The economy of South Africa is the second largest in Africa. South Africa is an upper-middle-income economy, one of only eight such countries in Africa. South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product almost tripled to peak at $400 billion in 2011, but has since declined to roughly $283 billion in 2020. In the same period, foreign exchange reserves increased from $3 billion to nearly $50 billion, creating a diversified economy with a growing and sizable middle class, within two decades of ending apartheid.

The following tables and chart will tell the change details in last 5-10 years:

South Africa Distribution of workforce from the last 5 years:

Sector20152016201720182019
Agriculture5.61%5.57%5.29%5.17%5.09%
Industries23.83%23.33%23.35%23.15%22.91%
Services70.56%71.1%71.37%71.69%72.01%

South Africa Distribution of GDP across economic sectors:

Sector20152016201720182019
Agriculture2.09%2.22%2.36%2.18%1.88%
Industries26.03%26.25%26.29%25.85%26%
Services61.39%60.8%61.03%61.04%61.2%

Here attached the last 10 years chart of South Africa GDP: (amount in billion USD):

3 Sectors of the Economy – Agriculture, Industry and Services:

  • Agriculture:

Agriculture is an important part in the South Africa’s economy. It employs almost 5.09% of the total workforce and contributed almost 1.88% in GDP.

South Africa is one of the world’s largest producers of chicory roots (4th), grapefruit (4th), cereal (5th), green maize and maize (7th); castor oil seed (9th); pears (9th); sisal (10th); fiber crops (10th).

Major products in this Sector:

Maize: Maize, the country’s most important crop, is a dietary staple, a source of livestock feed, and an export crop. Government programs, including generous loans and extension services, have been crucial to the country’s self-sufficiency in this enterprise. In 2019 the gross value of maize produced in South Africa was approximately 28 billion South African Rands (equivalent to nearly 1.94 billion U.S. Dollars), an increase of roughly 15 percent from 2018.

Fruits: Fruits, including grapes for wine, earn as much as 52 percent of agricultural export earnings in 2019. It also represents 28% of total employment in agriculture. The country’s share in the top six citrus exporting countries more than doubled from 6.6% to 15.7% between 2001 and 2019. It is now the second largest exporter of citrus globally.In 2019, South Africa exported US$ 2.9 billion worth of fruit, while imports were valued at US$ 142 million, resulting in a positive trade balance of about US$ 2.7 billion.

Sugarcane: Sugarcane is also an important export crop, and South Africa is the world’s tenth largest sugar producer. In the production year 2020, the preliminary gross production value of sugar cane in South Africa amounted to nearly 10 billion South African Rands (around 601.9 million U.S. dollars). As of the preceding production year, the gross value was roughly at 8.72 billion Rands (approximately 525 million U.S. dollars). 

Agriculture Subsidy in South Africa:

In 2019, support to agriculture was around 4% of gross farm receipts. The total support estimate to agriculture (TSE) was around 0.3% of GDP in 2019, with direct support to farms (PSE) representing around 73% of the total support, and the remaining 27% financing general services to the sector (GSSE).

Market price support and payments based on input use are the most important components of support to farmers. However, the level of price distortions is low and domestic prices for most commodities are aligned with world price levels, except for sugar and to a lesser extent milk and wheat, mainly due to import tariffs.

Direct payments, mainly in the form of investment subsidies, are mostly directed towards the small scale farming sector. As for the General Services Support Estimate (GSSE), the main elements are payments financing the agricultural knowledge and innovation system and expenditure on infrastructure. 

  • Industries:

Industry is an important part in the South Africa’s economy. It accounts for 26% of GDP and employed almost 22.91% of the workforce.

Major Industries in this Sector:

Mining: In 2019, the country was the world’s largest producer of platinum, the world’s largest producer of chromium; the world’s largest producer of manganese; the 2nd largest world producer of titanium, the world’s 11th largest producer of gold, the 3rd worldwide producer of vanadium, the 6th largest world producer of iron ore; the 11th largest world producer of cobalt, and the 15th largest world producer of phosphate. In 2020, it contributed almost 50% of export which is around USD $39.7 billion.

Automotive: The automotive industry’s contribution to South Africa’s GDP in 2019 stood at 6.4% (4.0% manufacturing and 2.4% retail).  As the largest manufacturing sector in the country’s economy, as much as 27.6% of value-add within the domestic manufacturing output was derived from vehicle and automotive component manufacturing activity. South Africa’s global vehicle production ranking is 22nd with a 6.9% vehicle production market share.
The South African automotive industry accounts for about 10% of South Africa’s manufacturing exports and employs around 36,000 people.

  • Services:

Service sector is an important part in the South Africa’s economy. It contributes almost 61.2% in the GDP and employed almost 72.02% of the total South Africa’s workforce.

Major Industries in this Sector:

Finance: South Africa has a sophisticated financial structure, with the JSE Limited, the largest stock exchange on the African continent, ranking 17th in the world in terms of total market capitalization, which is $1,005 Trillion as of August 2020. The banking industry, overseen by the South African Reserve Bank, is dominated by four local players: Ned bank, ABSA, Standard Bank and First Rand.

Tourism:  In 2019, the number of tourists in South Africa amounted to 16.44 million – a figure that steadily increased over the past five years and is expected to see growth in the future. By 2023, it was forecasted that the number of tourists in South Africa would reach 19.6 million. It employs 24.6 million people across the continent (6.8% of total employment). In South Africa, the direct contribution of the tourism sector to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was 130.1 billion rand in 2019 and constituted nearly 3% direct contribution to GDP. Among the main attractions are the diverse and picturesque landscape, the game reserves and the highly regarded local wines.

Telecommunication: The domestic telecommunications infrastructure provides modern and efficient service to urban and rural areas. This includes cellular and internet services from 5G to Gigabit Broadband. Five mobile-phone companies provide service to over 50 million subscribers, with South Africa considered to have the 4th most advanced mobile telecommunications network worldwide.

Top Companies in South Africa:

Company NameSectorMarket Cap
NaspersCommunication75.051B
First RandFinance25.292B
Anglo American PlatinumMining25.254B
ABSA BankBanking23.222B
Standard Bank GroupFinance19.210B
Vodacom GroupCommunication14.192B
SasolCommunication13.625B
SanlamOil and Gas12.198B
Capitec Bank HoldingsFinance11.894B
MTN GroupCommunication10.703B

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