In more than 90 countries

Economic Overview

For the latest updates on the key economic responses from governments to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, please consult the IMF's policy tracking platform Policy Responses to COVID-19.

South Africa has a highly developed economy and advanced economic infrastructure, making the country the leading African economy and home to around three-quarters of the largest African companies. The national government has been investing in significant policy improvements to restore macroeconomic stability in the country. Even though the government stated that boosting economic growth, cutting unemployment and avoiding downgrades by credit-rating agencies constituted the economic key priorities, South Africa still faces rising public debt, inefficient state-owned enterprises, and spending pressures, which have reduced the country’s global competitiveness. After experiencing a sharp decline of its GDP due to the COVID-19 pandemic (-6.3%) the South African economy bounced back in 2021 at +4.9% (IMF, 2023) driven by exports and household consumption (also thanks to government social transfers and a drawdown of savings, as part of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan). Sustained high prices and a strong commodity demand continued to boost exports and government revenues in 2022, with the IMF forecasting a growth of 2.1%, before reaching only 1.1% in 2023 (IMF Economic and Political Outlook, October 2022).

South Africa was recently replaced by Nigeria as Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy, but the country continues to be a regional leader. South Africa's response to the Covid-19 outbreak has been a standout in the region. However, the effects of the crisis are clearly visible. Government debt reached 68% of GDP in 2022 and is expected to reach 70.7% this year and 73.7% in 2024 (IMF, 2023). The difficulties of public companies (such as the state-owned power company Eskom) are compounded by the problems of private companies caused by the pandemic. Although the government is investing in aid programmes, the financial situation of the companies represents a risk to public finances. The country's budget deficit declined to 5.3% in 2021 and 5.5% in 2022, with the IMF forecasting a deficit at 5.7% in 2023 and 5.8% 2024. Headline inflation, driven by rising food costs and record-high fuel prices, reached 6.7% in 2022 (IMF, 2023) and should average 5.6% in 2023 (FocusEconomics, 2023).

South Africa's unemployment rate increased to 34.6% in 2022 due to the negative economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The IMF estimates that the rate will increase further in 2023 (34.6%) and 2023 (35.6%). Moreover, unemployment rates are much higher among the young population and the black majority of South Africans, further increasing inequality in a country considered one of the most unequal in the world, where nearly half the adult population lives in poverty: according to the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity group, approximately 30.4 million people live below the upper-bound poverty line of ZAR 1,268. The group estimates that 13.8 million people live below the food poverty line.

Main Indicators 202020212022 (E)2023 (E)2024 (E)
GDP (billions USD) 337.52418.91405.71399.02415.25
GDP (Constant Prices, Annual % Change) -
GDP per Capita (USD) 5,6616,9656,6946,4856,648
General Government Balance (in % of GDP) -5.7-5.0-5.5-6.4-6.4
General Government Gross Debt (in % of GDP)
Inflation Rate (%)
Unemployment Rate (% of the Labour Force) 29.234.333.534.734.7
Current Account (billions USD) 6.6615.40-1.94-9.15-10.91
Current Account (in % of GDP) 2.03.7-0.5-2.3-2.6

Source: IMF – World Economic Outlook Database , October 2021

Country Risk

See the country risk analysis provided by La Coface.



Main Sectors of Industry

South Africa is rich in mineral resources. The country is the world's largest producer and exporter of gold, platinum, chrome and manganese, the second-largest palladium producer and the fourth-largest producer of diamonds - with mining rents accounting for around 1.4% of GDP (World Bank, latest available data). Platinum and coal are now both larger contributors to mining output than gold, as the country produces 80% of the world's platinum and has 3% of the world's coal reserves. Coal continues to play a vital role as an energy source and contributes significantly to the economy, both through the generation of export revenue and employment. Important oil and gas reserves are thought to be situated off-coast, in the Indian Ocean. South Africa has diverse manufacturing industries and is a world leader in several specialised sectors, including railway rolling stock, synthetic fuels, mining equipment and machinery. The industrial sector employs nearly one-fourth of the workforce (22%) and represents 24.5% of the country's GDP (with manufacturing representing 12% alone).

Agriculture represents a small part of the country's GDP (2.4%) and employs 5% of the workforce, a relatively low ratio compared to other African countries. South Africa's agricultural economy is highly diversified and market-oriented. The country is the world's 8th largest producer of wine and the continent's largest corn (8th producer in the world) and sugar producer. Grains and cereals - such as maize, wheat, barley and soya beans - are the county's most important crops. As such, the country produces all major grains - with the exception of rice. The “2021-2030 Agricultural outlook projections report” produced by The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) asserts that the country’s real agricultural GDP could grow by 14% by 2030, with gross production value increasing by almost 2 billion USD.

The services sector employs 73.1% of the workforce and represents 62.7% of the country's GDP. The major sectors of the economy are finance, real estate and business services, followed by general government services. South Africa has a sophisticated financial structure with an active stock exchange that ranks among the world's top 20 in terms of market capitalisation. Nevertheless, the tourism sector has been particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially after the discovery of the “Omicron” mutation of the virus in the country, which caused the imposition of travel bans to South Africa from many countries.

Global economic activity is experiencing a broad-based and sharper-than-expected slowdown, with inflation higher than seen in several decades. The cost-of-living crisis, tightening financial conditions in most regions, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the lingering COVID-19 pandemic all weigh heavily on the outlook.  Global growth is forecast to slow from 6.0 percent in 2021 to 3.2 percent in 2022 and 2.7 percent in 2023, the weakest growth profile since 2001 except for the global financial crisis and the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Global inflation is forecast to rise from 4.7 percent in 2021 to 8.8 percent in 2022 but to decline to 6.5 percent in 2023 and to 4.1 percent by 2024 (International Monetary Fund - IMF, 2023). The impact of the 2022 world events appears to have affected both sides of most sectors and markets in this country for the third year in a row - demand disruptions having run up against supply problems - making the short-term outlook uncertain for agriculture, industry and service sectors.

Breakdown of Economic Activity By Sector Agriculture Industry Services
Employment By Sector (in % of Total Employment) 5.3 22.3 72.4
Value Added (in % of GDP) 2.5 24.5 63.0
Value Added (Annual % Change) 8.8 6.1 4.1

Source: World Bank - Latest available data.

Monetary Indicators 20162017201820192020
South African Rand (ZAR) - Average Annual Exchange Rate For 1 USD 14.7113.3013.2614.4016.47

Source: World Bank - Latest available data.



Foreign Trade

South Africa is very open to international trade, which represented around 56% of the country’s GDP in 2022 (World Bank, 2023). The country mainly exports platinum (12.6%), gold (7.9%), iron ores (7.2%), motor vehicles (5.4%), and coal and similar solid fuels (4.6%). The main imports are petroleum oils (12.6%), transmission apparatus for radio-telephony (3.6%), motor vehicles (3.1), medicaments (2.6%) and automatic data processing machines units (2.1% - Comtrade).

South Africa's top exporting countries are China, the United States, Germany, the UK, Japan and the Netherlands. One-fifth of imports come from China, followed by Germany, the U.S. and India. South Africa is the EU's largest trading partner in Africa: exports to the EU have been growing and becoming more diverse, with the country moving from mainly commodity-based products to a more diversified export profile that includes manufactured goods (World Bank, 2023). In 2019, the African Union launched the operational phase of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), establishing a single market for goods and services across 54 countries - making it the world's largest free trade area by number of countries.

According to the latest available data from WTO, in 2021, South Africa exported products for USD 123.57 billion, while it imported USD 113.98 billion USD of goods. The country imported services for a total value of USD 13.3 billion, whereas its exports of services in the same year reached USD 8.8 billion. After recording a trade surplus of USD 9.5 billion in 2021 (World Bank), South Africa's preliminary trade surplus for the 11 months to the end of November 2022 was R187.8 billion, less than half of the R402-billion recorded over the same period in 2022 (South African Revenue Service, January 2023).

Foreign Trade Indicators 20172018201920202021
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP) 53.554.654.150.856.2
Trade Balance (million USD) 4,4171,8472,65017,75330,552
Trade Balance (Including Service) (million USD) 4,3491,9352,06815,10226,079
Imports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change)
Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) -0.32.7-3.4-11.910.0
Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP)
Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 27.327.627.327.631.2

Source: World Bank ; Latest available data

Foreign Trade Forecasts 20222023 (e)2024 (e)2025 (e)2026 (e)
Volume of exports of goods and services (Annual % change)
Volume of imports of goods and services (Annual % change)

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook ; Latest available data

Note: (e) Estimated Data

International Economic Cooperation
South Africa is a member of the following international economic organisations: African Union, WTO, G-20, G-24, G-77, ICC, IMF, among others. For the full list of economic and other international organisations in which participates South Africa click here. International organisation membership of South Africa is also outlined here.
Free Trade Agreements
The complete and up-to-date list of Free Trade Agreements signed by South Africa can be consulted here.

Main Partner Countries

Main Customers
(% of Exports)
China 9.6%
United States 8.8%
Germany 7.3%
Japan 7.0%
United Kingdom 5.2%
See More Countries 62.1%
Main Suppliers
(% of Imports)
China 20.1%
India 7.4%
Germany 7.3%
United States 7.3%
Saudi Arabia 4.0%
See More Countries 53.8%

Source: Comtrade, Latest Available Data



Political Outline

Current Political Leaders
President: Cyril RAMAPHOSA (since February 2018) – ANC ; the president is both chief of state and head of government
Executive Deputy President: David MABUZA (since February 2018) - ANC
Next Election Dates
Presidential: May 2024
Legislative (National Council of Provinces and National Assembly): 2024
Current Political Context
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has been re-elected leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party in December 2022 despite a series of political difficulties and facing calls to step down as president. He is now focusing on rebuilding public support ahead of elections in 2024. Backing for the party has slipped amid persistent inequality in the country, but his re-election as leader of the ANC is strengthening his pursuit of economic reforms and paves the way for him to run for a second term as president in 2024. Nevertheless, M. Ramaphosa has many social and economical challenges to address in 2023 as South Africa experiences crippling power cuts of more than seven hours a day, an unemployment rate of 35 percent and reports of widespread corruption.

Despite M. Ramaphosa’s win, the ANC remains deeply divided. Former President Jacob Zuma leads nearly half of the party that is opposed to Ramaphosa and his anti-corruption drive. M. Mkhize has emerged as the public head of that faction.
Main Political Parties
  • The African National Congress (ANC): ruling party in power since the end of apartheid and Nelson Mandela's election in 1994; consistently wins at least 60% of the vote, although its popularity declined by several percentage points between 2004 and 2014; centre-left to left-wing, but allied with the far left groups, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP)
  • Democratic Alliance (DA): official opposition, centrist, supports liberal democracy and free market principles, progressively gaining in popularity
  • Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF): far left, Marxist, has been gaining popularity
  • Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP): conservative, right-wing, dominated by rural, Zulu-speakers based in the KwaZulu-Natal region; emphasises social justice and the role of traditional communities. The party's popularity has been consistently decreasing in recent years.
Executive Power
The President is both the chief of state and the head of the Government. The President is indirectly elected by the Parliament (lower house) to serve a five-year term. He/She is usually the leader of the largest party. The President is the also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, declares war or peace and appoints the Cabinet.
Legislative Power
South Africa has a bicameral legislature. The National Council of Provinces (the upper house) has 90 seats, with 10 members elected by each of the nine provincial legislatures for five-year terms. The National Assembly ( the lower house) has 400 seats; the members are directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation vote to serve 5-year terms.

The executive branch of the Government is directly or indirectly dependent on the support of the Parliament, often expressed through a vote of confidence. The President can dissolve the Parliament if a majority of the members of the National Assembly seek its dissolution and if has been at least three years since the last election.



COVID-19 Country Response

Travel restrictions
Regularly updated travel information for all countries with regards to Covid-19 related entry regulations, flight bans, test and vaccines requirements is available on TravelDoc Infopage.
To find information about the current travel regulations, including health requirements, it is also advised to consult Travel Regulations Map provided and updated on a daily basis by IATA.
Import & export restrictions
A general overview of trade restrictions which were adopted by different countries during the COVID-19 pandemic is available on the International Trade Centre's COVID-19 Temporary Trade Measures webpage.
Economic recovery plan
The overview of the economic and fiscal measures is available on the page dedicated to South Africa on the KPMG's website.
For a general overview of the key economic policy responses to the COVID-19 outbreak (fiscal, monetary and macroeconomic) undertaken by the South African government, please consult the country's dedicated section in the IMF’s Policy Tracker platform.
Support plan for businesses
For an evaluation of impact of the Covid pandemic on SMEs and an inventory of country responses to foster SME resilience, refer to the OECD's SME Covid-19 Policy Responses document.
You can also consult the World Bank's Map of SME-Support Measures in Response to COVID-19.