Here’s HOW expensive South Africa has become since 1994

With the historic 2024 General Election taking place this week, we want to know how expensive South Africa has become since 1994. That’s why we’re taking an in-depth look at how expensive South Africa has become as far as everyday household items and services are concerned, since the end of apartheid.

Cost of living will always go up. Because, as expensive as items may appear today, 30-years from now, in 2054 we’ll no doubt look back and laugh at how inexpensive they appear. As economists love to point out, when it comes to inflation, what goes up must go up, and up, and up some more …


President Cyril Ramaphosa wraps up the African National Congress election campaign ahead of this week’s elections. Image: File

Let’s take a trip 30-years back and look at how expensive South Africa has become. Firstly, let’s look at fuel. In the mid-90s Brent Crude oil was roughly $27 a barrel. Moreover, the Rand was just R4 to the US Dollar. That meant 95 unleaded petrol cost R1.88 per litre.

Today, Brent Crude is $87.17 per barrel. The Rand/Dollar exchange rate (as of 27 May 2024) is R18.37 to $1. And the price of a litre of 95 unleaded petrol is R25.49. For more context, we consult SA Inflation Calculator to check the equivalencies of these figures 30-years apart.


how expensive South Africa has become
An iconic image from the start of our democracy. Things are roughly 444% more expensive now. Image: File

According to SA Inflation Calculator, Mzansi has seen a 444% increase in inflation over 30 years since we became a democracy. R1 in 1994 is equivalent to R5.44 in today’s money. Therefore, working backwards, petrol should only cost R10 per litre and not the R25 we’re currently paying. The massive price gap is clearly down to more than just fuel taxes and levies lumped on by the government.


how expensive South Africa has become
Credit where credit is due, McDonalds’ Big-Mac prices have managed to beat inflation over 30 years in South Africa. Image: File

Another accurate way to gauge how expensive South Africa has become since 1994 is the McDonald’s Big-Mac Index, as it’s known. While McDonald’s only opened its first restaurants in South Africa in 1995, we can still compare burger prices. From just one restaurant the fast-food retailer now operates well over 200 countrywide.

When the first McDs opened its doors at the turn of democracy, a Big Mac cost R7. Today the exact same burger will now cost you R31. Refreshingly, that price is actually below inflation. Following the 444% multiplier, a Big Mac should cost R38 today. So, you’re actually getting more burger per Rand today than you did 30-years ago.


how expensive South Africa has become
If you receive a social grant today you’re actually slightly better off than your parents 30-years ago. Image: File

Something that never changes in South Africa is social welfare for the needy through government-funded social grants. Back in 1994, a SASSA old-age pension paid out R390 per month. Today it’s R2 180. And we’re happy to report that actually compares favourably. Today’s equivalent of that amount 30-years ago should be R2 120. So, while hardly a lot, Mzansi’s pensioners are bagging R60 above inflation, compared to pre-democracy.  


how expensive South Africa has become
The lights are staying on for now, but the data reveals all about Eskon. Image: File

Back in the ‘90s, Eskom delivered one of the best national services in the world. And for that privilege we paid roughly 10.32 cents per kWh. Today, following year-on-year tariff hikes, the average price across all tiers is 350.80 cents kWh. There are various tiers and prices differ across provinces based on usage, but experts say 350 cents is a reliable average. However, that’s still massively above inflation. 10.32 cents is only 56.15 cents in today’s money. Sounds more like an Eskon to us …


how expensive South Africa has become
Citizens 30-years ago probably wouldn’t be able to fathom the mobile technology and smartphones we have access to today. Image: Pixabay.com

Finally, South Africa has enjoyed something of a communications revolution in the last 30 years. So, how much did the top-of-the-line cellphone and data package cost back in 1994 compared to today? Perhaps you’ll recall the bulletproof Nokia 2110 was all yours for just R2 295. And R29 per month got you dial-up internet access. That Nokia in today’s money would retail for R12 486. However, the latest top-of-the-range Apple iPhone 15 costs R22 999 and an uncapped/unthrottled 25 mbps fibre line is yours for R449 per month.

Item     1994 Inflation adjusted 2024
Rand/Dollar R4 to $1 R21.76 to $1 R18.72 to $1
Petrol   R1.88/litre R10.23/litre  R25.49/litre
Big Mac  R7  R38  R31
SASSA pension R390  R2 120 R2 280
Eskom electricity 10.32 c/kWh 56.16 c/kWh   350.8 c/kWh
Cellphone R2 295 R12 486   R22 999
Data R29 R157 R449


how expensive South Africa has become
Why not have your say on how expensive South Africa has become since the end of apartheid. Image: Duncan P Walker

Are you surprised to see how expensive South Africa has become since 1994? Do you think consumer inflation is out of control and a change of leadership can do anything about it? Be sure to share your thoughts with our audience in the comments section below. And don’t forget to follow us @TheSANews on X and The South African on Facebook for the latest updates. Check out the trending stories on our website, too …

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