This paper analyses changes in the inequality of employment earnings in South Africa between 1993 and 2008. This is done through the implementation of a relatively new method of comparing the contributions of various factors to observed changes in incomes distributions. Counterfactual earnings distributions are calculated to assess the effect of changes in the returns to individual characteristics on inequality, and whether these changes operated through changing labour market outcomes or earnings for those employed. The effect of changes in the distribution of education is also calculated, and this is again decomposed into effects operating through labour market outcomes and effects operating through employment earnings. The method is designed to be used in labour markets with high unemployment rates, and incorporates analysis of labour market effects and earnings into one unified approach, which is unusual in the literature on earnings inequality.