South African Cultural Observatory

Snapshot of the cultural and creative industries in South Africa

BY 04.07.24

The SACO 2022 mapping study showed that the total contribution of the cultural and creative industries to South Africa’s GDP was R161 billion in 2020. This represents just under 3% of South Africa’s total economic production in 2020 and makes the sector approximately the same size as agriculture.

The largest domains in terms of contribution to output are Design and Creative Services (R51 billion in 2020, 32% of the contribution to GDP), and Audio-visual and Interactive Media (R48.4 billion in 2020, 30% of the contribution to GDP). The dominance of these domains is expected, since they involve the commercial application of cultural and creative content, such as in film and television, video games, fashion design, architecture, and advertising.

The next largest domains are Visual Arts and Crafts (R23.4 billion in 2020, 15% of the contribution to GDP), and Books and Press (R21.5 billion in 2020, 13% of the contribution to GDP). These are followed by the smaller domains of Performance and Celebration (6%) and Cultural and Natural Heritage (4%).

As found in previous mapping studies, and international literature, the creative economy grows quickly when the economy is doing well but tends to decline more quickly than other sectors when economic growth slows. As the growth rates on the inside of the figure show, all the domains shrank in terms of their size and contribution to GDP in 2020. This is not surprising, since during much of 2020, economic activity was restricted because of measures put in place to control COVID-19.

There are indications of recovery in the sector now, although it may take some time for them to return to their previous growth levels, especially if the general economic growth rate remains low. Some sectors have also developed new ways of working, such as remote work, and the use of online platforms to reach markets, which have persisted in the post-COVID era, and which may help to increase productivity in the future.

Another important consideration for the development potential of the CCIs is how they are geographically distributed. The map gives a comparative overview of the percentage contribution of each province to South Africa’s creative economy. As found in other countries, one region (Gauteng Province) is clearly dominant in terms of creative economy activity in the country. It contributes 46.5% of the economic contribution of the CCIs. The Western Cape (14.4%) and KwaZulu-Natal (17.1%) also have significant shares of South Africa’s CCI economic activity.

There are good reasons for the CCIs, particularly in some domains, to cluster in cities: For example, it is easier to source the diverse inputs and specialist skills often needed for creative production; and cities offer larger markets of people who buy cultural goods and services. However, recent analysis of the South African fashion design sector (SACO, 2023) shows that some parts of the creative industries can be based in areas with smaller cities and can offer creatives better lifestyles and lower prices for production space.

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