Is South Africa A Third World Country?

Is South Africa A Third World Country

Think about this for a moment; is South Africa a third world country, going by the region’s economic potentials? It’s surprising to find a country like South Africa in such category, given their potentials compared to some Asian countries that transited from being a third to a first world country within a few decades. A country like South Africa is undoubtedly among those well placed to make experience such economic transition. Unfortunately, things are different now. So, here’s a pressing question we are going to answer;

Is South Africa a third world country?

South Africa is a third and first world country. Looking at some of the regions in the country, particularly the south will make you feel SA is a first world country. You will find world-class infrastructure and a standard of living that mirrors a developed country. But when you move north, the case is different. There, you will understand why SA is still a third world country or emerging market. There’s extreme poverty, lack of basic amenities, and a host of other unpleasant factors plaguing the country. So, the bottom line is, SA is a mix of both worlds (first and third world).

Alright, so that’s where South Africa belongs when you divide the world economies according to economic status. Keep on reading for more on the topic.

Why South Africa Is Called A “Third World” Country

First off, this post is not to spite SA (South African) citizens. SA is still a great country. But permit me to say they are a sleeping giant that needs to wake up and start acting. I also assume all South Africans feel the same way and would be happy to see their country become a first world country, not the other way around.

No matter its economic status, South Africa is an absolute gem for tourists! From the beautiful vineyards of Cape Winelands to the rugged cliffs of the Garden Route, and the iconic Table Mountain overseeing Cape Town, each region offers a unique and unforgettable experience. With South Africa group tours, countless tourists come to explore these amazing wonders.

Again, it’s surprising that SA, a country with an abundance of natural resources and goods, is still a third world country. Let’s not forget that this country has made massive progress when it comes to manufacturing and industry, in general. But it’s still a country that cannot rub shoulders with the big boys, which include the developed countries of the world.

Now having a few wealthy citizens here and there doesn’t make a country a developed country. Of course, even in a third world country, you will find people living as comfortable as their counterparts in developed countries.

So back to the question, why is SA regarded as a third world country, given the abundant resource the country has?

Let’s get something straight; the amount of resource a country has isn’t the factor that determines its economic status. Some nations have little or no natural resources, but today, they are among the first world or developed countries of the world.

Let’s take South Korea, for instance. The country doesn’t have single mineral wealth, unlike South Africa and a couple of other Africa countries with an abundance of mineral resources. The primary things South Korea had are what economics would call national systems characterized by innovation. And yes, South Korea invested heavily in human capital development.

South Korea, a country without mineral wealth, also started a bit lower or equal in GDP per capita compared with numerous African countries. Today, they have become a developed country, while many of their African counterparts are still struggling.

So, South Africa is a third world country due to its economic status. As with other countries in this category, SA (South Africa) has a sizeable agrarian sector, where a large portion of her population engages in traditional or subsistence agriculture, characterized by the use of crude implements.

A sizable portion of SA’s population that’s living in rural areas lacks some of the basic amenities of life. The country is also battling with diseases, low productivity, lack of drinkable water and high infant mortality.

So, even if some parts of the country, Johannesburg, Cape Town and a few others, for example, seems to be well-developed, packed with diverse industries, and have world-class infrastructural development, it’s not a total reflection of the entire country. Other parts of the country are still backward and are responsible for the country’s third-world status.

Factors That Make A Country Third World

For the records, the popular term “third world” is no longer in use. It’s often replaced by the word “low-income countries” or “developing countries” by the World Bank and UN, respectively. You will also come across terms like “emerging markets,” which refers to developing, underdeveloped or third world countries.

However, the name doesn’t change anything in these third world countries. These are countries that are lacking in so many areas. And it will take years for them to reach the status of a first world or developed country. It can take almost 25 years for a country to move from a third world to a first world country.

Alright, so what are the factors that make a country to be ranked a developing or third world? The first we will look at is poverty. A large number of the country’s population must be wallowing in poverty to be called a third world country.

Another factor experienced in such nations is high child mortality. And while developed countries have lower child mortality (6 deaths per 1000 children), third world countries, plagued by a weak healthcare system, has higher child mortality (175 deaths per 1000 children).

Education is another critical factor that isn’t receiving much attention in developing countries. While other countries like South Korea, are investing in education and human capital development, most developing countries, particularly South Africa, never paid much attention to the sector.

The main thing that’s responsible for poor educational development in developing countries is not the citizens but the government. Education budgets are always falling short of the expected requirement. Other factors include corruption, poor governance and a steady increase in public debt profile. Governments of third world countries act unorganized and lack the required managerial skills to effect a significant development in the educational sector.

Most of the politicians believe educating the populace will make them difficult to rule. So, the best is to ensure that the majority of the citizens remain illiterates. And it could be all because of their political ambition. If the government of these nations can put their selfish nature aside and also declare a state of emergency in the educational sector, their countries can develop faster.

Like South Africa, most developing or third world countries come blessed with an abundance of natural resources. But they need to understand that having all the natural resources in the world, and an educationally backward society isn’t good for economic progress. Education is the backbone of every country and required for long-term development.

You can’t build industries and make plans to hire only expatriates to drive the business and economy of your country. By doing so, you will end up increasing the unemployment rate in your region. Plus, this can lead to extreme poverty. However, with proper education, the citizens will have the skills and knowledge to handle those technical jobs, instead of depending on expatriates.

High foreign debt is another major factor that defines a third world country. The gross loan debt of South Africa, for example, has risen significantly. As of the time of writing, the country’s debt is R 2.2 trillion, a report from the National Treasury.

Third world countries are also less advanced technologically. Most of the leaders in these regions are not forward thinkers and exposed technology-wise. They are not prepared to adopt the fast-paced life of the jet age.

Most of them don’t see the need to focus attention on technological changes and don’t plan for the long term future of their countries, technology-wise. But if the third world countries must move forward, the leaders need to embrace technology, allocate a portion of their budget to technology and copy the tech advancement in other parts of the world.

The last on this list is the vulnerability of these nations. Most third world countries depend on industrialized nations as if they were their founders. And owing to their poor technological development and management skills, most third world countries are exploited by some of these industrialized nations, including more giant corporations.

So these are the factors that characterize third world countries or emerging markets, of which South Africa belongs. However, it takes years for a country to go from third to first world country. But given SA’s resource and potentials, it’s safe to say that the country will achieve such status too.

If only the government and the citizens can come together, identify the problems, and work towards achieving the first-world economic status, things would be much better. Successive governments also need to work according to the development plans of the previous administration, instead of creating an entirely new strategy. It will help the country to move forward faster in terms of economic development and status.


The question “is South Africa, a third world country,” is an important one. It’s a question that not only South Africa but other countries classified as emerging markets or developing countries, need to consider. And I am speaking about the African continent! The region has the potentials to succeed and needs to act now.

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