What South Africa Can Teach Us as Worldwide Inequality Grows

On May 8, South Africans are due to vote in the sixth national elections since the fall of apartheid. The African National Congress (ANC), the liberation party once led by Nelson Mandela that has ruled South Africa since 1994, is expected to return to power. But a quarter-century after Mandela called for the state to be fundamentally reshaped to address the inequalities of apartheid, the world’s most egregious racial divide has turned into its most extreme economic disparity. The World Bank last year deemed South Africa the world’s most unequal society, estimating that the top 10% owned 70% of the nation’s assets in 2015. And the split is still largely along racial lines; the bottom 60%, largely comprising blacks—which, for the purposes of this story, includes mixed-race people and Asians descended from an era of slavery and colonial rule—controls 7% of the country’s net wealth. Half the population lives on less than $5 a day.