As SA grows, what animal is it becoming?

2009-10-23 00:00

CHANGES in the growth, composition, mobility and income of the population are reshaping the South African spatial, economic and political landscape in unprecedented ways.

This is resulting in many challenges, but is also creating ­opportunities.

Where people could live, work and own property, and also how and where they could move within the country’s borders, was determined by legislation and social engineering for more than 300 years, but particularly in the past few decades.

This all changed after 1994.

The world-famous Professor Peter Drucker rightly remarked that demographics is the future that has already happened. But this reality usually dawns on policymakers when it’s ­already too late.

When the past is projected unchanged into the future, bottlenecks are created and opportunities elude even astute business leaders.

The following are some of the changes that can be pinpointed.

• There is a rapid decrease in the natural growth of all four main population groups.

• Deaths from HIV/Aids and related diseases take a high toll and suppresses population growth.

• Rapid urbanisation not only transforms the appearance of cities and towns, but places enormous pressure on service delivery.

• The sustained influx of immigrants brings skills, but also has negative consequences. Rightly or wrongly, immigrants are associated with crime and drug trafficking.

• On the other hand, the loss of skills through emigration is one of the main reasons economic growth is just hobbling along.

• The rapid ageing of the population places increasing pressure on welfare services, while the dwindling economy has many pension and ­medical aids staggering.

• Drastic changes in income and spending patterns create new markets, while others dwindle or disappear. The gap between a small number of wealthy people and growing numbers of poor ones grows ever wider. The emergence of a growing middle class and the increase in the number of people working for themselves, rather than for employers, is ­encouraging.

Population growth levels off

The population growth is levelling off and the composition is changing.

Annual births will decrease from about 1,2 million in 2001 to just over 1 million in 2021.

Deaths are expected to peak by 2010 and then rapidly decrease. This is because particularly deaths from HIV/Aids (an estimated 500 000 a year) are expected to decrease.

More than 800 000 people already receive antiretroviral treatment. But this is just half the number who need it.

The present population of 49,3 million (2009 half-year estimate) is expected to grow fairly slowly to about 52 million by 2021.

This is good news for containing the growing unemployment figure, which now stands at over 23%.

Rapid urbanisation, education and general improvement in living standards has brought about a rapid drop in the birth rate.

Whites reached the replacement level of an average of 2,1 children per woman in the late eighties. Indians reached it 10 years ago, coloureds will reach it within the next year or two, and blacks will reach it about 20 years from now. These differences in population growth are producing a rapid change in population composition.

Minority groups are shrinking

Whites, coloureds and Indians are shrinking minorities.

For example, by 1980 whites still formed nearly 15% of the total population. The present figure is 9,1%.

Coloureds will become the second largest population group in due course — they number only 40 000 fewer than whites at present, but this group is growing quickly.

Immigrants are increasing

Immigrant and emigrant figures remain mysteries. No one knows how many immigrants, particularly from the rest of Africa and from Asia, have already streamed into South Africa. Estimates vary between four and 12 million. An estimate of between eight and nine million looks most likely.

Here, as in many other countries, there is a mix of undocumented and documented migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Corruption by officials and the police enables many immigrants to use the “revolving door syndrome” in ­order to escape deportation.

Trade unions speak with a forked tongue. They are pro-migrants (workers from southern Africa), but anti-immigration (the recruitment of skilled foreigners) to relieve skills shortages.

Some figures give an indication of immigrant numbers. By 2007, 5,6% of the population of Gauteng had been born outside South Africa. In central Johannesburg, foreigners comprise nearly eight percent of the population. Almost half the population of Yeoville, Berea and Hillbrow are foreigners.

More than 1,2 million people have left the country in the past 20 years. The loss in various fields is immeasurably great.

The influx from rural areas to the cities and towns continues unabated.

Poverty is increasingly shifting to the urban areas. Luxury suburbs right next to squatter areas and traditional African markets just a stone’s throw away from modern shopping complexes, are causing inequalities that are greater than before 1994.

Urban growth is occurring very unequally. Gauteng and the Western Cape are growing the fastest. Gauteng is the smallest province, but produces more than a third of South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product and is now the most populous province.

Fewer than 30 towns have shown positive white population growth in the period 2001 to 2007.

The depopulation of the rural areas has far-reaching consequences for schools, churches, etcetera.

There are already more than 2 000 squatter areas, and squatters are increasingly occupying open spaces in urban areas. New migrants cause instability because they compete for jobs, living space and services.

Economic structural changes

Economic structural changes are being brought about by unequal population growth, affirmative action, black economic empowerment, the emigration of highly skilled people, and the fact that the knowledge economy is rewarding expertise at the ­expense of the unskilled.

According to the Bureau of Market Research, whites’ personal income contribution to the total income of all population groups dropped from 70,4% in 1960 to 43% in 2007. In the same period, blacks’ contribution increased from 22,5% to 42%. Coloureds’ and Indians’ shares have shown a relatively slow increase.

Whereas the personal disposable income of blacks between 1990 and 2006 rose by 45%, that of whites rose by only 11%.

The emerging middle class, whose members earn between R2 400 and R18 600 a month, has increased rapidly and already numbers between nine and 13 million. These “black diamonds” are the best insurance policy for stability.

According to the Bureau of Market Research, the structure of the working population that earns more than R14 000 a month has changed rapidly.

By 2006, the majority of this income group were working for themselves rather than for an employer.

Economic growth is not filtering through to all strata of the population. More than two-thirds of high-income groups live in the Western Cape and Gauteng. Limpopo and the Eastern Cape remain the poorest provinces, with large numbers of people leaving.

The inequalities between rich and poor keep growing.

More than half of black people live in poverty.

The number of whites living in poverty has increased at a greater rate than the number of blacks. At present, there are more than 600 000 poor whites.

Before 1994, South Africa was a very polarised community on the basis of race, religion and values.

A new polarised community is now emerging, with big differences between rich and poor — regardless of race or gender.

South Africa finds itself in a transition phase between a past that was unreal and future expectations that are not realising very easily.


• Professor Flip Smit is a former principal of the University of Pretoria.



• There is a rapid decrease in the growth of all four main ­population groups.

• Whites, coloureds and Indians are shrinking minorities.

• Coloureds will become the second largest population group.

• Gauteng is the smallest province, but produces more than a third of South Africa’s GDP.

• Whites’ personal income contribution to the total income of all ­population groups dropped from 70,4% in 1960 to 43% in 2007.

• In the same period, blacks’ contribution increased from 22,5% to 42%.

• The emerging middle class has increased rapidly and already numbers between nine and 13 million.

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