South Africa has a two-tiered economy; one rivaling other developed countries and the other with only the most basic infrastructure. It is therefore a productive and industrialised economy that exhibits many characteristics associated with developing countries, including a division of labour between formal and informal sectors and an uneven distribution of wealth and income. The primary sector, based on manufacturing, services, mining, and agriculture, is well developed.
South Africa's transportation infrastructure is among the best in Africa, supporting both domestic and regional needs. OR Tambo International Airport serves as a hub for flights to other Southern African and International countries. South Africa also has several major ports that make it a central point for most trade in the Southern African region.
The formal economy of South Africa has its beginnings in the arrival of Dutch settlers in 1652, originally sent by the Dutch East India Company to establish a provisioning station for passing ships. As the colony increased in size, with the arrival of French Huguenots and German citizens, some of the colonists were set free to pursue commercial farming, leading to the dominance of agriculture in the economy.
At the end of the 18th century, the British gained control of the colony, imposing the English language on the colonists, who were now developing a culture of their own. This in turn lead to the Great Trek, spreading farming deeper into the mainland, as well as the establishment of the independent Boer Republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
In 1870 diamonds were discovered in Kimberley, while in 1886 some of the worlds largest gold deposits were discovered in the Witwatersrand region of Transvaal, quickly transforming the economy into a resource dominated one. The British, seeking the riches of the gold fields, invaded the Boer republics, and re-gained control over them in 1902 after the Second Boer War. The country also entered a period of industrialization during this time, including the organization of the first South African trade unions.
The government soon started putting laws distinguishing between different races in place. In 1948 the National Party won the national elections, and immediately started implementing an even stricter race-based policy named Apartheid, effectively dividing the economy into a privileged white one, and an impoverished black one. The policy was widely criticized and led to crippling sanctions being placed against the country in the 1980s. The legacy of Apartheid will still have a major impact on the economy for generations to come.
South Africa held its first multi-racial elections in 1994, leaving the newly elected African National Congress (ANC) government with the daunting task of trying to restore order to an economy harmed by sanctions, while also integrating the previously disadvantaged segment of the population into it. As of 2005 agriculture, that once dominated the economy, contributes only 3.4% to the country's GDP, while services now account for 65.1%.
GEAR economic policy
The Government of South Africa demonstrated its commitment to open markets, privatisation and a favourable investment climate with its introduction of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy - the neoliberal economic strategy to cover 1996-2000. Introduced by Finance Minister Trevor Manuel in June 1996, the policy set government the goals of achieving sustained annual real GDP growth of 6% or more by the year 2000 while creating 400,000 new jobs each year. The policy was meant to increase investment, especially Foreign Direct Investment, in the country to help achieve these goals.
The outcomes of the GEAR strategy have been mixed. It brought greater financial discipline and macroeconomic stability but largely failed to deliver in key areas. Formal employment continued to decline, and despite the ongoing efforts of black empowerment and signs of a fledgling black middle class and social mobility, the country's wealth remained unevenly distributed along racial lines. The desperately needed FDI also remained elusive, and consequently the ambitious economic growth targets were never realised. The policy came under stringent fire from many critics, especially when growth slumped to only 0.8% (later revised even lower to 0.5% by Statistics South Africa) in 1998.
South Africa's budgetary reforms such as the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework and the Public Finance Management Act - which aims at better reporting, auditing, and increased accountability - and the structural changes to its monetary policy framework (including inflation targeting) have, however, created transparency and predictability and are widely acclaimed. Trade liberalisation also progressed substantially since the early 1990s. Average import tariffs in South Africa, for example, declined to 14.3% in 1999 from more than 30% in 1990. These efforts, together with South Africa's implementation of its World Trade Organisation (WTO) obligations and its constructive role in launching the Doha Development Round, show South Africa's acceptance of free market principles.
One of the key pillars of the GEAR macroeconomic strategy was to reduce the fiscal deficit, which had reached over 9% of GDP during the 1993/4 fiscal year. The deficit has remained below 3% since the implementation of the reforms, greatly improving South Africa's fiscal health. The Government's 2002 budget called for a moderate increase in spending to promote faster growth and poverty alleviation
Trade and investment
South Africa has rich mineral resources. It is the world's largest producer and exporter of gold and platinum and also exports a significant amount of coal. Another major export is diamonds. During 2000, platinum overtook gold as South Africa's largest foreign exchange earner. The value-added processing of minerals to produce ferroalloys, stainless steels, and similar products is a major industry and an important growth area. The country's diverse manufacturing industry is a world leader in several specialised sectors, including railway rolling stock, synthetic fuels, and mining equipment and machinery.
Agriculture, based on a 2005 estimate by The World Factbook, accounts for only 3.4% of the gross domestic product. Major crops include citrus and deciduous fruits, corn, wheat, dairy products, sugarcane, tobacco, wine and wool. South Africa has many developed irrigation schemes and is a net exporter of food.
Exports reached 29.1% of GDP in 2001, up from 11.5% a decade ago. South Africa's major trading partners include the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Italy, Belgium, China, and Japan. South Africa's trade with other Sub-Saharan African countries, particularly those in the Southern Africa region, has increased substantially. South Africa is a member of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). In August 1996, South Africa signed a regional trade protocol agreement with its SADC partners. The agreement was ratified in December 1999 and implementation began in September 2000. It intends to provide duty-free treatment for 85% of trade by 2008 and 100% by 2012.
South Africa has made great progress in dismantling its old economic system, which was based on import substitution, high tariffs and subsidies, anticompetitive behaviour, and extensive government intervention in the economy. The new leadership has moved to reduce the government's role in the economy and to promote private sector investment and competition. It has significantly reduced tariffs and export subsidies, loosened exchange controls, cut the secondary tax on corporate dividends, and improved enforcement of intellectual property laws. A new competition law was passed and became effective on 1 September 1999. A U.S.-South Africa bilateral tax treaty went into effect on 1 January 1998, and a bilateral trade and investment framework agreement was signed in February 1999.
South Africa is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). U.S. products qualify for South Africa's most-favoured-nation tariff rates. South Africa also is an eligible country for the benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and most of its products can enter the United States market duty free. South Africa has done away with most import permits except on used products and products regulated by international treaties. It also remains committed to the simplification and continued reduction of tariffs within the WTO framework and maintains active discussions with that body and its major trading partners.
As a result of a November 1993 bilateral agreement, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) can assist U.S. investors in the South African market with services such as political risk insurance and loans and loan guarantees. In July 1996, the United States and South Africa signed an investment fund protocol for a $120 million OPIC fund to make equity investments in South and Southern Africa. OPIC is establishing an additional fund--the Sub-Saharan Africa Infrastructure Fund, capitalised at $350 million--to investment in infrastructure projects. The Trade and Development Agency also has been actively involved in funding feasibility studies and identifying investment opportunities in South Africa for U.S. businesses.
Despite the numerous positive economic achievements since 1994, South Africa has struggled to attract significant Foreign Direct Investment. The situation may have started to change however, with 2005 seeing the largest single FDI into South Africa when Barclays bought a majority share in local bank Absa Group Limited. Deals between the British based Vodafone and South Africa's Vodacom have taken place in 2006.