Author | Editor: Aviles, W. (NSI, Inc.)
Only one data set on wealth and status distribution in South Africa was available: the 2016 World Bank income quintiles.
South Africa ranks as the third highest risk acceptant population in the world and while the lowest income sector of society is very risk acceptant, the highest income sector is more risk acceptant by roughly 250%. This difference is likely due to the monumental class divisions in South African society, where income inequality in the country has not significantly improved since the end of apartheid.
Significance for Risk Taking and Stability
South Africa is a key regional actor that assumes important political roles on the African continent, it also has the second largest economy on the continent. Internally, South African politics are slowly shifting away from a one-party democracy to a multi-party one, largely due to the lack of improvement in economic inequality and corruption. Inter-racial divisions still exist in South Africa and intra-racial divisions have steadily increased. With economic growth stagnating in recent years, exacerbated by corruption scandals of the ANC leadership, both the very poor and very rich are highly risk acceptant and skeptical about the government.
Implications for US Interests
The primary interest of the US is to prevent South Africa from politically aligning with Russia or China, and to continue a relatively good existing relationship. However, given the mounting domestic tension and an electorate that expects a great deal of anti-corruption and economic reforms to succeed, the status quo is in a precarious position. If the recently elected Cyril Ramaphosa cannot produce the results he campaigned on, then the political stability the ANC has offered South Africa over the past decades can evaporate, and less friendly governments may align South Africa away from the US.
Implications for China’s Interests
China has been investing heavily for years in South Africa and is Pretoria’s most important trading partner. While Ramaphosa is more inclined to the Western political order, his economic initiatives necessitate $100 billion in investment and Beijing is a prime candidate donor. The extreme wealth inequality and class divisions in a democratic country imply a magnitude of latent instability that can jeopardize Chinese economic interests. The way China operates their investments in South Africa is of paramount concern and Beijing must navigate through a highly divided South African society and avoid the appearance of increasing inequality and exploitation of South Africans.
Implications for Russia’s Interests
Russia has little foothold in South Africa either economically or by political influence, and this has lessened even more so after the departure of former South African president Jacob Zuma. Russia can thus view the highly risk acceptant nature of South African society in opportunistic fashion; whereby fomenting anti- Western rhetoric among the risk acceptant poor and enticing the wealthy elite through corruption, could be a feasible strategy for Russia to disrupt US and Chinese influence.