How circular is South Africa’s economy? – With this research, we present the first-ever comprehensive analysis of material and energy flows for an extractive economy, found at this link. The findings are sobering, because of the extremely low levels of circularity due to the prevalent extractive export-orientated mode of economic activity.

Moreover, we found that annual additions to the material stocks of buildings, infrastructure and machinery to the domestic economy for service-provisioning are much smaller than required to meet the needs of the population. This, we claim to be a structural implication of extractivism.

We recommend that future studies would do well to examine the material and economic implications of both Circular Economy strategies and the energy transition in the importing economies of the Global North onto the Global South, especially in the context of historical and global as well as domestic justice.

Thus, we conclude that a double injustice is inscribed into the biophysical economy of South Africa and its trade relations. First, because domestically the economy fails to provide the conditions for decent living standards. Second, because global resource demand makes the South African economy as resource use heavy as the EU, while resource importing economies can translate material flows into well-being for their inhabitants, while South Africa gets the left-over of resource extraction, the extractive waste of mining coal, metals ores and phosphate rock, while accuring economic benefits for a small part of the population and mining companies. A pathway towards circular economy thus requires a paradigmatic change in the mode of economic activity and holds opportunities for increased well-being and higher circularity.

 By Dominik Wiedenhofer – BOKU