‘Life’ in the new South Africa: where people die at 49

Kevin_Kingby Kevin King

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Ever heard of the saying “life is short”? Actually, life is the longest thing that you or I will ever have. But that’s life on a personal level. If you’re South African, life is a whole lot shorter compared to the world average. When Madiba read out his “Better life for all” speech, I’m 100% sure that “better” did not imply shorter!

Life expectancy in the new South Africa has plummeted to a shocking 49 years. To put that in perspective, the life expectancy in Europe during the middle ages was around 30. And with the current downward trend, we could get even closer to that figure. We are currently ranked 210 out of 226 countries. The bottom 40 places consist mostly of African states of which we are in the lower half. Of the six countries which hold up the bottom of the list, four are neighbouring countries namely Swaziland, Zambia, Lesotho and Mozambique. In a war-ridden country such as Iraq, you can expect to live 20 years longer than in South Africa! Much further up the list are notables such as the USA (78 yrs), UK (79 yrs), New Zealand (80 yrs), Australia (81 yrs) and Japan (82 yrs).

So how on earth does our self-proclaimed “Capital of Africa” end up with a life expectancy of 49, 210th in the world and one of the worst fairing African states?


At the start of the apartheid in 1948, the average life expectancy of African (black) South Africans was only 38. At the time there were close on eight million black South Africans. During the 46 years of apartheid, the average life expectancy rose significantly to 64 years. This increase was evident by the growth of the black population which was then estimated at just over 35 million.


Since the fall of apartheid, 17 years ago, the average life expectancy of a South African has dropped considerably from above 65 years to 49, a shameful number for a country that can afford billions to host world cups. There are a number of factors which contributed in our current state of shame but let’s have a look at the main ones:

1. HIV/Aids – The ruling party’s policies, under Mbeki, regarding Aids is said to have resulted in millions of deaths which have occurred and which are still to occur in the next decade. It has also contributed to the high rate of TB fatalities with are in most cases Aids-related.

2. Hospitals – Many of our hospitals have become places of dying instead of places of healing due to the lack of competent nursing staff and the lack of qualified doctors and nurses.

3. High crime rate – About 50 South Africans are murdered PER DAY which means about 20 000 people a year.

4. Lack of drinking water – Although water is plentiful, more than 80% of families do not have access to adequate drinking water. It is said that by 2015, more than 80% of our water resources will be undrinkable. This contributes to unhygienic conditions, sickness and disease.

5. Poverty – Unemployment is sitting at about 25%. Most of these people cannot afford food and do not have houses over their heads. Some who are employed don’t even get paid eg Aurora.

a) Any ideas on how to improve the life expectancy of our countrymen to an acceptable level, say above 75?

b) How long will this take?

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