Is South Africa a First World country?
NO. It's not and it has nothing to do with economy or poverty.
When people talk about the poorest countries of the world, they often refer to them with the general term Third World, and they think everybody knows what they are talking about. But when you ask them if there is a Third World, what about a Second or a First World, you almost always get an evasive answer. Other people even try to use the terms as a ranking scheme for the state of development of countries, with the First World on top, followed by the Second World and so on, that's perfect - nonsense.
The use of the terms First, the Second, and the Third World is a rough, and it's safe to say, outdated model of the geopolitical world from the time of the cold war.
There is no official definition of the first, second, and the third world. Below OWNO's explanation of the terms.
After World War II the world split into two large geopolitical blocs and spheres of influence with contrary views on government and the politically correct society:
1 - The bloc of democratic-industrial countries within the American influence sphere, the "First World".
2 - The Eastern bloc of the communist-socialist states, the "Second World".
3 - The remaining three-quarters of the world's population, states not aligned with either bloc were regarded as the "Third World."
4 - The term "Fourth World", coined in the early 1970s by Shuswap Chief George Manuel, refers to widely unknown nations (cultural entities) of indigenous peoples, "First Nations" living within or across national state boundaries.
The term "First World" refers to so called developed, capitalist, industrial countries, roughly, a bloc of countries aligned with the United States after World War II, with more or less common political and economic interests: North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australia.
"Second World" refers to the former communist-socialist, industrial states, (formerly the Eastern bloc, the territory and sphere of influence of the Union of Soviet Socialists Republic) today: Russia, Eastern Europe (e.g., Poland) and some of the Turk States (e.g., Kazakhstan) as well as China.
"Third World" are all the other countries, today often used to roughly describe the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The term Third World includes as well capitalist (e.g., Venezuela) and communist (e.g., North Korea) countries, as very rich (e.g., Saudi Arabia) and very poor (e.g., Mali) countries.
To summarize. You are first world if you aligned yourself with the western bloc of countries after world war 2. You are second world if you aligned yourself with the eastern bloc of countries. And you are third world if you didn't side with anyone.
So no. South Africa isn't and never will be classified as a first world country even if the infrastructure and economy is on par with first world countries.
I must just add that the definitions of the different worlds has changed over the years.
Dirk's answer is accurate - we have components of our economy that compare favourably with the best of the first world (an example would be our banking sector).
We have major cities where you would be forgiven for thinking you were in Europe or the USA (other than language).
At the same time, in those same cities, there are areas that leave you in no doubt that you are in Africa and in a developing country.
Short answer: no - South Africa is not a First World country
No a third world country. That is why there is so much of corruption.
No, it's not. Although South Africa is considered to be an industrialized country and her infrastructure mediums are actually far better than those in many "First World" nations, South Africa is not a "First World" nation simply because the overwhelming majority of her people are still very much poor, as poor as a person in your average "Third World" nation.
South Africa is a developing, capitalist nation (although many will object) and the poor in a developing nation have a very fragile chance of escaping poverty and unemployment.
South Africa is a Developing Country - so no it it is not a First World Country.
It is not a Third-World Country either. It has First World Components, as well as Third-World Components.
However, these definitions are misleading as all these definitions and meanings are in flux and changes with popular use, especially by the media.
So it would be more practical to state your meaning more precise.
South Africa is a third world country - first world is the developed countries in north America and western Europe; the second world was the old Soviet block and China; and the third world is the rest.
From an economic point of view, South Africa is a Newly Industrialized Country (NIC) like China, India, Brazil and Malaysia. Much of its economy is developed (first world), but most of the people are impoverished.