So we all know that 1994 was a good year for the social side of South African life. Apartheid was over, the government was now elected by the majority of the people and Nelson Mandela was in charge with the help of the ANC.

However, the other day I was watching a vlog from a South-African YouTuber who briefly mentioned that since the ANC took power, the infrastructure started to get worse. According to him, pot-holes started forming in the streets, education started to lose its quality as did the police force... And it was only after 1994 that corruption became a major issue.

Now I have been trying to research these statistics but there is next to no data on the internet, other than the GDP growth from 1994-onward which appears okay, but still below the world average.

What was the infrastructure like in SA before 1994? was it good? Mediocre? Better or worse?

Today, it's obvious that South Africa is not very-well run by the government, i.e. the crime rates are sky-high especially with violent crime and the police force is inadequate to deal with the situation so most people turn to private security instead. I'm curious to know if the situation was better in the past, was South Africa once considered a developed nation?

Needless to say, it would be nice to get a statement from someone who lived in SA through the 70s or 80s. Thank you.

  • 2
    How would you measure infrastructure?
    – MCW
    Commented May 11, 2017 at 12:51
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    With no measurement, all answers are speculation. I don't think this question can be answered as stated. Commented May 13, 2017 at 21:00
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    I'm not asking for a measurement, I'm asking for a description. And why are measurements so important all of a sudden? This isn't the Engineering stack exchange, hardly anything in the topic of politics and history can be measured besides dates and times also the statement 'all answers are speculation' is false because these answers refer to events in the past which can be proven whereas speculation is a guess about the future or things that would have been but haven't, in any case it's not a speculation because there were people like sempaiscuba who witnessed it first-hand.
    – Jalapeno
    Commented Jun 15, 2017 at 15:14
  • 1
    The answers show that the question can be answered, even with measurements.
    – Pere
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 20:25
  • Just a note to keep in mind: since the late 80s and the embrace of neoliberal policy as the economic norm, infrastructure maintenance has wained in one sector or another in a lot of countries that already had their networks built, even ones with substantially higher GDP.
    – 5ar
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 9:02

4 Answers 4


My father worked in Lesotho from 1975 until the mid 1980s. I attended a boarding school in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State from 1975 - 1977 (after which I transferred back to a boarding school in the UK. I returned to Lesotho for the holidays, and between 1975 and 1979 I visited all of the provinces of South Africa. So here are my observations, for what they are worth.

My experience was that the state of the infrastructure was comparable to that in the UK at that time (in some ways it was better, given the strikes that impacted services in the UK in the mid 1970s). Metalled roads were kept in good repair, and even dirt-roads were maintained to a standard that allowed a normal family saloon to use them without risk (with the possible exception of the rainy season in some parts of the country!).

As far as I could see, education was also excellent - provided, of course that you were white. Education for other groups was less great, as you can probably imagine. However, I played rugby against school teams from other parts of the country and the facilities at all the schools (for white kids) we visited seemed to be uniformly very good.

Crime rates were certainly low while I was there. Car-jackings were almost unheard of, and serious crimes like rape and murder were rare. But then again, I'm white, and I lived in areas where most residents were also white.

I rarely had much contact with the police, but again, I'm white (and I have a British passport - which really helped on a few occasions), so my experience was mostly positive. The police that enforced the Pass Laws (the laws that enforced segregation under Apartheid) certainly weren't the brightest people I've ever met, but I also never personally witnessed any instance of abuse or corruption.

I returned to the UK permanently in 1979, so I have only anecdotal evidence of what happened since, but friends do say that things have got a lot worse, so it's possible that your vlogger is right.

But perhaps black South Africans would have a different perspective ...


The overall decline of South African infrastructure is an ongoing trend that predates the rise of the ANC.

A number of articles in the economic literature look at the data on this. Here is one that concludes:

Public sector investment in South Africa’s economic infrastructure rose as a percentage of GDP between 1960 and 1976, but this was followed by a long-term decline.

Investments in railways, roads, ports and electricity all plateaued at some point earlier on in the twentieth century. Telecommunications, however, is an exception and has actually improved under the ANC.

In contrast to other measures of infrastructure goods and services, fixed telephone lines grew rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s [...] and there was explosive growth in mobile phones in the 1990s and early 21st century.

Another article mentions some extension of electrical lines (but not generative capacity) as a partial exception to the overall decline. It also includes the following graph which shows the overall relative decline in infrastructural investment very clearly. The dotted black line essentially shows that the value of South African infrastructure peaked in the 1980s. The dark and solid line is also relevant, showing that investment peaked earlier on.



The answer to this depends on who you ask. For a general overview you can view it like this.

While it is true that more people have access to infrastructure this is not the result of regime change and was already a trend before the ANC took over that you don't generally hear. You should also consider the general state of infrastructure which has been in a decline since 1994.

One example of this is Eskom. Another is public healthcare and education has also been deliberately dumbed down. Spend on infrastructure and public services has increased but there there is a lot less to show for it due to corruption and wastage.

Eskom for instance is producing less electricity today than 15 years ago when rolling blackouts started and more people have switched to energy saving devices yet these are becoming more common. The education system is producing less qualified candidates with more people dropping out of university.

Sources added:
Chart showing an average increase of electricity use till 2007 and then a decrease.

  • 2
    What information are you basing this overview on or is this from personal experience?
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 20:49
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    You'll have a lot stronger answer if you include your supporting evidence in it. Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 21:25

I can confirm @Sempaiscuba. At the time, I worked for an outbound travel agency. We did group tours to South Africa before and after abolishment of Apartheid. Before, the infrastructure was great. Mostly on par with Western Europe. After abolishment of Apartheid it declined. Especially with regard to safety - a top priority issue for a travel agency. So much so, we stopped tours to South Africa a few years later.

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