Animation: How long do South Africans live?

This is an animation to break your heart. In any unequal society, the privileged live long lives and everyone else much shorter lives.

Animation of the racial composition of different age groups in South Africa.

Click animation to view from the start.

READ MORE: South Africa’s population

Most black South Africans die young. Most white South Africans live long lives.

In between, coloured South Africans statistically live a bit longer than black people. Indian South Africans tend to have shorter lives than white people.

Inequality and social injustice don’t only limit how people live. They also limit how long people live.

South Africa isn’t unusual in the way wealth and privilege run with race. What is unusual is that, thanks to the apartheid state’s Vogon-like attention to bureaucratic detail, we still have a system of recording nation-wide statistics according to race.

Race isn’t a real thing. But the concept matters in South Africa, so we still need statistics on it. Statistics South Africa uses “population groups” as a better name for “race”.

(France stopped recording population statistics by race in 1978. This, according to the Guardian, today has “the side-effect of making systemic racism in the labour market much harder to quantify”.)

South African notions of race, made law as late as 1950, are maybe more absurd than most. Our “races” are weird.

We have black people. Cool. We have white people. Okay. We have “coloured” people. But – wait. Black people, white people, and coloured people? We also have a population group known as “Indian or Asian”.

Black, coloured, white, Indian-or-Asian. These labels come from our history. In biology they are meaningless. In culture they describe nothing.

But the labels still, today, signal who will live a long life, and who won’t.

READ MORE: Infographic: The people of South Africa by age, sex and race 

Researched, written and designed by Mary Alexander.
Updated 13 April 2018.
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