South Africa: how well does Africa’s southernmost country perform in international rankings on economic competitiveness and environmental sustainability? How well does its nation brand perform in comparison to other countries in the region?

Let’s explore what international rankings and indices have to say about South Africa in terms of its economic performance, sustainability, country brand strength and reputation.

Let’s take a closer look at:

  • South Africa’s soft power and brand strength
  • Its appeal to skilled labor, investors and visitors
  • The country’s global contribution to peace and wellbeing
  • How well it fares in terms of happiness and sustainability

South Africa’s soft power and brand strength

How does South Africa compare in terms of reputation and brand value globally?

In the Global Soft Power Index 2023 by Brand Finance, South Africa ranks highest in Soft Power in Africa, ahead of Mauritius (67), Rwanda (85), Nigeria (93), Botswana (96), and Kenya (100). South Africa experienced a drop of six positions from 2022, although its score increased by 2.3%. 

South Africa’s high score is largely due to its familiarity with other countries but issues like corruption and poor governance is holding the country back from realizing its full potential. Nevertheless, it remains a popular destination for tourists due to its stunning scenery, wildlife, and wine.

In the U.S. News Best Countries 2023 ranking, South Africa secures the 46th position,  behind Vietnam (44th) and Croatia (45th). Notably, South Africa  excels in two key areas: heritage (24th) and power (29th). However, South Africa dropped four positions from 2022, with lowest scores in open for business factors and quality of life.

The Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brand Index (NBI) calculates its ranking based on averaging the scores of six different factors: exports, governance, tourism, culture, people and immigration, and tourism. According to the NBI 2023 ranking  South Africa secures the 42nd position, a drop of one position since 2022.

South Africa: how attractive for talent

What are the conditions for talent attraction and retention in South Africa?

The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index 2019 edition placed South Africa at the 60th position among 141 countries. However, it’s important to note that an updated version of this report hasn’t been released in the past 5 years, and rankings may have shifted since then.

South Africa, classified as a upper-middle income country within the Sub-Saharan African regional group, currently holds the 68th position in the Global Talent Competitiveness Index 2023. South Africa performs best in the Attract pillar (53rd) and its main challenge is VT skills (93rd).

South Africa’s appeal to digital nomads, business, trade and travel 

What is the global perception of South Africa as a destination for living, conducting business, and tourism?

The Expat Insider 2023 ranks South Africa in 48th  position out of 53 countries, below Malta (46th) and Italy (47th). South Africa ranks highest in the Leisure Options metric where it secured the 14th position above France (15th) and Kenya (16th) and secured the 26th position in the Environment and Climate metric, above the United States (27th) and the Netherlands (28th).

As per the UNCTAD World Investment Report 2023, South Africa does not rank amongst the top 20 economies for inflows or outflows. However, South Africa’s single intrafirm financial transaction in 2021 boosted inflows drastically in the region, impacting negatively the overall regional performance in 2022; removing this transaction the region would have experienced an FDI inflow of 7%. In 2022 FDI in South Africa reached $9.1 billion – double the average of the last decade. In terms of SDG projects, the South Africa Green Hydrogen Project is one of the top three projects in developing countries announced in 2022. In the African region, South Africa ranks first as a renewable energy host.

The Bloom Consulting biannual Country Brand Ranking Trade Edition 2022-2023 assesses investment-related variables, emphasizing perceptions of a country’s trade-specific brand and evaluating branding performance. Regionally, South Africa placed 2nd behind Nigeria and above Ghana. South Africa’s ranking dropped by one position, once the regional leader before Nigeria became the new star. This drop is expected to be a consequence of a decrease in  D2 – Digital Demand ©, a combination of CBS Rating © and online performance score decrease. Globally South Africa secured the 39th position. 

In addition, the Bloom Consulting Country Brand Ranking Tourism Edition 2022-2023 places South Africa at the 41th global position. Regionally, South Africa continues to hold the 2nd position, falling  behind Egypt.

In the IMD 2023 World Competitiveness Ranking, South Africa secured the 61st position, showing a slight shift from its 60th ranking in 2022 and 62nd in 2021. Currently, it stands just behind Botswana (59th) and Brazil (60th) while surpassing  Mongolia (62nd) and Argentina (63rd). 

In terms of specific characteristics, South Africa’s  economic performance decreased by  two positions to the 61st spot in 2023. It holds the 59th position for government efficiency, experiencing a drop of six positions compared to 2022. Lastly, South Africa climbs two positions to the 54th position for business efficiency, and holds the 62nd spot for infrastructure, a decrease of two positions since 2022.

South Africa’s environmental sustainability

Is South Africa an example of environmental sustainability? 

The 2022 edition of the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks South Africa 116th, below Maldives, Micronesia and Uruguay which tied for the 113th position. The EPI analyzes the performance of 180 countries, scoring and ranking these countries on their environmental performance using the most recent year of data available as well as providing calculable changes in scores over the previous decade. South Africa has experienced a change in score of positive 10.10.

How “good” is South Africa?

In the Caf World Giving Index 2023, South Africa secured the 57th position, showcasing an impressive jump of 30 positions. Notably, South Africa performs admirably in the subfactor of helping a stranger, with 71% of its adult population helping a stranger this past year.

In the Good Country Index, South Africa currently holds the 44th position overall, with notable subfactors as follows: Science & Technology (19th), Culture (48th), International Peace & Security (38th), World Order (22nd), Planet & Climate (127th), Prosperity & Equality (79th), and Health & Wellbeing (62nd). It’s worth mentioning that in 2022, South Africa was ranked 41st, and in 2021, it held the 47th position. While the country has experienced a three point drop since the 2022 ranking, there has been a significant increase in the Science and Technology as well as the Prosperity and Equality factor, although there is still much room for growth.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Democracy Index 2023, South Africa ranked in the blue zone (7-8 range) with a 7.05  out of 10. This is higher than Ghana and India who scored a 6.43 and a7.04  but lower than Botswana and the United States who scored 7.73 and 7.85.

The 2022 Corruption Perception Index, ranks South Africa 72nd with a score of 43/100, tying with Benin, Bulgaria, Ghana and Senegal. South Africa’s score has remained the same since 2021.

The Sustainable Development Report 2023 ranks South Africa in 110th position, it highlights that the country faces some major and significant challenges to overcome before attaining SDG achievement status for all 17 goals.

Peace and happiness in South Africa

Is South Africa a happy and safe place to invest time and money in?

The Global Peace Index 2023 ranks South Africa 130th, dropping 8 positions. South Africa sits behind Burundi (128th) Haiti (129th). South Africa falls under the low sector of the ‘State of Peace’ spectrum as defined by the Institute for Economics & Peace. South Africa positioned 32nd  out of 44 countries regionally amongst the fellow Sub-Saharan African countries, led by Mauritius and Botswana.

The Institute for Economics & Peace similarly ranks South Africa  within the medium impact (yellow) zone in terms of ‘Impact of Terrorism’ in the 2022 Global Terrorism Index. South Africa ranks 79th, tying with Bahrain, Rwanda and Uruguay. 

Meanwhile, the World Happiness Report 2023 which displays the Ranking of Happiness based on a three-year-average 2020–2022 ranks South Africa 85th.

Last updated in October 2023. More country profiles here.

More about South Africa, its country brand(ing), destination marketing and attractiveness as location, in our South Africa Country Showcase.

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