South Africa’s economy is one based off of natural resources and mineral wealth. In the early generations of the economy, the 19th and early 20th centuries, much of the country’s wealth was determined by exports and their involvement in the international economic system. South Africa was the leading producer for nearly half of the world’s supply of gold and also a high contributor for dozens of other minerals, such as chrome, manganese, platinum, and other base minerals. It is also the world’s third largest coal exporter. South African’s abundance of minerals, primarily gold and diamonds, spurred interest by many European nations. By the end of the 1930’s, these European nations encouraged state-owned enterprises and continued to oppress black entrepreneurs.

2. This map shows South Africa’s distribution of mineral wealth. The separate mines for Asbestos, Gold, Iron, Manganese, Chrome and Coal are depicted. Also important in the South African economy are diamonds.

South Africa’s had the highest mineral wealth of any country other than the Soviet Union. However, facing fluctuations in the price of gold left the South African economy unstable. It wasn’t until the 1950’s and 60’s that the government intervened and began pushing for the growth of manufacturing and textiles so as not to rely solely on mining. Both manufacturing and agricultural production grew rapidly during the post WWII era and by 1970 their output even exceeded that of mining. Manufacturing became the largest contributor to GDP during that time.

3. This image shows a Gold Mine in South Africa from some time between 1880 and 1923. This method of Gold Mining is called surface mining in which the surface and rock on top of the mineral deposits is remove. Gold mining is extremely important to the South African economy since they hold 50% of the nation's gold supplies.

Unfortunately for South African citizens, during Apartheid in the 1980’s governmental regulations and policies were designed to “bolster the economic and political power of a small minority and to exclude many of South Africa’s citizens, selected by race, from significant participation in the nation’s wealth.” (1) These policies of Apartheid, strictly limited the rights of Africans political, cultural, and economic power. This successfully divided the economy into a privileged white one and an impoverished black one.

Also during the time of Apartheid, South Africa was hindered by their population rise. During the 80’s and 90’s, population growth in South Africa exceeded economic expansion, which led to large drops in individual GDP. The economy remained stagnant during this decade and the GDP dropped around 10% per year. However, South Africa was still on top economically when compared to other African countries. South Africa “produced more than one-third of Africa’s goods and services, and nearly 40 percent of its manufacturing output.” (1)



  1. Country Studies Program – The Library of Congress, None Given. Web. 26 Nov. 2011 <>.
  2.  Digital Docs in a Box. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, 1880-1923. Web. 26 Nov. 2011 <http:”” images=”” imperialism=”” diamond_mine2.html=””>.</http:>
  3. American Chemical Society (ACS) Style Guide: Uploader, S.Natural Resources:Minerlas, Connexions Web. April 22, 2009.<>

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