Animation: How long do South Africans live?

This is an animation to break your heart. The final injustice of any unequal society is that privileged people live long lives, while the people who do the work that creates privilege live much shorter lives.

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

Read more: South Africa’s population

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 what we now call “population groups“.

(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”.)

But the South African notion of race, made law as late as 1950, reveals something more: “race” exists only in the minds of people who want it to exist. Our “races” are weird. We have black people. Cool. We have white people. Okay. We have “coloured” people. But – wait. Black people, and coloured people? It gets weirder. We also have a population group, recorded in our statistics, known as “Indian/Asian”.

Black, coloured, white, Indian/Asian. These labels come from our history. In biology they are meaningless. In culture they are inaccurate. But in reality they mean the difference between a short life of suffering, insult and labour, and a long life of health, education and prosperity.

That’s inequality. It’s still everywhere. But it was, and is, most plain to see in South Africa.

Read more: Infographic: The people of South Africa by age, sex and race 

Researched, written and designed by Mary Alexander.
Updated 4 March 2018.