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2022 was a rough year for people everywhere – South Africa was no exception

Soweto township residents protest over a lack of electricity on June 21, 2022. Photo by PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP via Getty Images

Tough economic conditions meant that 2022 was a rough year for people everywhere in the world. South Africa was no exception. But this year’s crop of problems came on top of a legacy of poor economic performance.

The country’s economic growth averaged 1% over the nine years to 2021, leaving the population poorer on average. The poverty rate has increased, reaching 63% in 2021, according to the latest World Bank estimates, back to where it was a decade earlier. Failure to improve living standards, the bank has warned, threatens social stability and will add pressure to public finances, which are already overstretched.

These problems can be addressed. But the country has been struggling to reach consensus on the way forward, a crucial step that’s needed before solutions can be found, as South African Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago pointed out in a major speech.

During the course of 2022 we published a number of articles that talk to South Africa’s socio-economic challenges.

An analysis of expenditure on basic education, healthcare and the criminal justice system by Michael Sachs, Arabo K. Ewinyu and Olwethu Shedi shows that government’s fiscal consolidation path will reduce real spending on these core public services, further eroding their quality and reach.

Read more: South Africa's public service: real spending is falling, but demand is growing

In another article, Sachs explains why South Africa needs a social compact on the sacrifices that must be made if the country is to find a balance between giving income support to the poor and unemployed and managing the fiscal risks to its fragile economy.

Read more: Basic income support in South Africa: risks, rewards and what it will take

Not all of the country’s problems are recent. One major challenge to the lives of many South Africans is the power cuts which have been going on for more than 13 years.

Outages have become regular occurrences which are estimated to cost the country’s economy about US$1 million an hour.

We worked with academic experts to try to make sense of the structural and governance factors driving the power cuts and how to get the country out of this situation. Here are five essential reads.

Read more: South Africa's power crisis: five essential reads

Some of the challenges, such as land reform, which remains highly contested, are a hangover from the colonial and apartheid past. Johann Kirsten and Wandile Sihlobo argue that the debate on land reform is skewed by persistent myths about farmland statistics and the structure of the country’s commercial agriculture sector.

Read more: Land reform in South Africa: 5 myths about farming debunked

Another hangover from the past is uneven regional economic growth and development.

Justin Visagie and Ivan Turok outline what can be done to help lagging regions improve their economic performance.

Read more: South Africa should design economic policy based on strengths of regions: here's how

Finally, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa may have an impeachment case to answer. This was the finding of the independent parliamentary panel probing the scandal over the theft of thousands of US dollars stashed illegally on his farm, Phala Phala. Academics writing for The Conversation Africa explored the issues.

Read more: South Africa's President Ramaphosa could be impeached - 3 essential reads on the Phala Phala scandal

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