Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, the South African rand depreciated by -11.9% against the US dollar since 2016 and declined by -13.9% from 2019 to 2020. South Africa’s weaker local currency makes its imports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively more expensive when converted starting from the South African rand.
From a continental perspective, 46.4% of South Africa’s total imports by value in 2020 were purchased from Asian countries. European trade partners supplied 31% of imported bought by South Africa while about 10.8% worth originated from fellow African nations. North American exporters accounted for 7.5% of South Africa’s imports, with 2.5% coming from Latin America (excluding Mexico) plus the Caribbean and 1.3% shipped from Oceania led by Australia.
Given South Africa’s population of 59.7 million people, its total $69 billion in 2020 imports translates to roughly $1,200 in yearly product demand from every person in the resources-rich South African country.
South Africa’s Top 10 Imports
The following product groups represent the highest dollar value in South Africa’s import purchases during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each product category represents in terms of overall imports into South Africa.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$9.6 billion (14% of total imports)
- Machinery including computers: $9.1 billion (13.1%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $7.1 billion (10.3%)
- Vehicles: $4.4 billion (6.4%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $2.4 billion (3.5%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $2 billion (3%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $1.9 billion (2.8%)
- Other chemical goods: $1.7 billion (2.4%)
- Organic chemicals: $1.3 billion (1.8%)
- Inorganic chemicals: $1.2 billion (1.7%)
South Africa’s top 10 imports accounted for almost three-fifths (58.9%) of the overall value of its product purchases from other countries.
The sole gain from 2019 to 2020 belongs to miscellaneous chemicals thanks to its 4.5% increase.
Leading the decliners among South Africa’s top 10 product categories were imported vehicles via a -37.1% drop. Other major declines were -34.7% for mineral fuels including oil, -19.2% for machinery including computers, and -18.3% for plastic materials and items made from plastic.
See the more detailed product information under virtual folders with headings such as Fuel, Machinery, Electronics and Vehicles.
In 2020, South African importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of mineral fuels-related products.
- Crude oil: US$5.1 billion (down -42.4% from 2019)
- Processed petroleum oils: $3.6 billion (down -20.4%)
- Petroleum gases: $359.2 million (down -15.5%)
- Electrical energy: $239.8 million (down -7.8%)
- Coal, solid fuels made from coal: $215.8 million (down -52.2%)
- Petroleum oil residues: $69.7 million (down -22.1%)
- Petroleum jelly, mineral waxes: $30.3 million (down -10.7%)
- Tar pitch, coke: $21.5 million (up 5.5%)
- Coke, semi-coke: $17 million (down -87.3%)
- Peat: $7.5 million (down -14.1%)
Among these import subcategories, South African purchases of tar pitch and coke (up 5.5%) was the sole gainer from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of mineral fuels-related imports among South African businesses and consumers.
In 2020, South African importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of machinery including computers.
- Computers, optical readers: US$1.4 billion (down -21% from 2019)
- Machinery parts: $510.2 million (down -12.7%)
- Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators, road rollers): $480.6 million (down -30.6%)
- Printing machinery: $472.5 million (down -30.3%)
- Centrifuges, filters and purifiers: $378.9 million (down -9.3%)
- Taps, valves, similar appliances: $345.3 million (down -16.6%)
- Liquid pumps and elevators: $329.1 million (down -18.9%)
- Transmission shafts, gears, clutches: $309.2 million (down -12.6%)
- Miscellaneous machinery: $306.8 million (down -15.2%)
- Air or vacuum pumps: $254.8 million (down -20.7%)
Leading the decliners among these import subcategories from 2019 to 2020 were South African imports of heavy machinery such as bulldozers, excavators and road rollers (down -30.6%), printing machinery (down -30.3%) and computers including optical readers (down -21%).
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported machinery among South African businesses and consumers.
In 2020, South African importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of electronics.
- Phone system devices including smartphones: US$2.5 billion (down -20% from 2019)
- Electric generating sets, converters: $406.2 million (down -0.4%)
- Electric storage batteries: $350.8 million (up 15%)
- Electrical converters/power units: $347.6 million (down -20.9%)
- Electric motors, generators: $325.8 million (up 45.6%)
- Insulated wire/cable: $291.7 million (down -29.6%)
- Lower-voltage switches, fuses: $284.8 million (down -14.2%)
- TV/radio/radar device parts: $284.4 million (down -4.2%)
- Electric water heaters, hair dryers: $245.6 million (down -13.6%)
- Solar power diodes/semi-conductors: $210.7 million (down -38.1%)
Among these import subcategories, South African purchases of electric motors and generators (up 45.6%) and electric storage batteries (up 15%) grew from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported electronics among South African businesses and consumers.
In 2020, South African importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of vehicles.
- Cars: US$2.1 billion (down -45.9% from 2019)
- Automobile parts/accessories: $1.2 billion (down -26.7%)
- Trucks: $508.8 million (down -28%)
- Tractors: $232.2 million (down -8.7%)
- Trailers: $93.8 million (down -13.7%)
- Motorcycles: $66.7 million (down -29.6%)
- Public-transport vehicles: $58.5 million (down -39.3%)
- Special purpose vehicles: $36.5 million (down -20.7%)
- Motorcycle parts/accessories: $33.3 million (down -28.4%)
- Bicycles, other non-motorized cycles: $24.8 million (down -12.4%)
Among these import subcategories, South African purchases of cars (down -45.9%), public transport vehicles (down -39.3%), motorcycles (down -29.6%), motorcycle parts or accessories (down -28.4%) then trucks (down -28%) shrank at the fastest pace from 2019 to 2020.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported vehicles among South African businesses and consumers.
See also South Africa’s Top 10 Exports, Top South African Trading Partners and Top African Export Countries
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