The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has revised SA’s growth forecast for 2020 down to 0.8%. According to Stats SA data, population growth has averaged around 1.6% over the last decade, meaning that the population will continue to grow twice as fast as national production. That is if the IMF has not once again overestimated growth in SA.

According to the South African Reserve Bank the country is in the longest downward business cycle on record, running since December 2013: 73 months to date. According to SARB’s January report, the lead business cycle indicator faced the strongest drag down “from a decrease in the number of residential building plans approved”.

Opportunities are decreasing; they are also largely reserved for the politically connected. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has introduced a new “Social Mobility Report” that tries to rank countries by the extent to which they allow people to move up and down the social ladder according to merit as opposed to, for example, accident of birth and political cronyism. SA is ranked 77 out of 82 countries.

On this WEF ranking SA has the worst unemployment figures for people with a basic education. It also has the worst unemployment numbers for people in rural areas. It also has the worst record for “cooperation in labour-employer relations”.

As dismal as these demonstrable and verifiable figures are, on other measures SA does better. For example, the WEF ranks SA as the least corrupt of all BRICS countries. It also ranks SA at 56 on the measure of “Political Stability and protection from violence”, one of SA’s best rankings on the index.

Yet on the same measure it ranks the UK at 46, below Greece, Serbia, Vietnam, Albania, and Cyprus, the last of which has been violently split for decades and faces a high threat of war with Turkey.

Big question marks must be placed behind these latter rankings, which are highly interpretive at best. This raises the further question: as bad as WEF’s rankings of SA’s low social mobility appear in the context of a shrinking economy, could the reality be even worse?

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