Stats show bleak outlook for SA

Unemployment is one of major challenges affecting the youth. Picture: File
Unemployment is one of major challenges affecting the youth. Picture: File

Stats SA’s mid-year population estimates and grim jobs statistics spell out the huge challenges the country faces

It was another week of bad economic news in South Africa, with Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey revealing that the unemployment rate had shot up to 29%.

Among young people, unemployment stands at a staggering 39%.

This piece of devastating news overshadowed the other important statistics released by the agency earlier in the week – the mid-year population estimates.

While not speaking directly to economic issues, the population estimates give us a picture of the society that the economy has to cater for.

And the challenges are major.

Consider the fact that, of South Africa’s 58.8 million citizens (as of May), 17 million are children who are younger than 14, and 20.6 million are between the ages of 15 and 34.

The rest of the component consists of adults aged between 35 and 59 (15.9 million), and the elderly, who number 5.3 million.

When you read this together with the Labour Force Survey statistics, it becomes alarming.

Stats SA notes that, while the youthfulness of a population “could be harnessed to unleash a potential demographic dividend”, this is not the case in South Africa.

This is because “the majority of South Africa’s youth often fall within one of three categories: uneducated, unemployed and unemployable”.

And, as the years march on, they will be joined by cohorts of the 17 million who are now classified as children.


The other major challenge that jumps out is the concentration of the population in three provinces, namely Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.

The three – which are the country’s economic hubs and home to the biggest metros – have also shown the fastest growth rates.

Home to 15.2 million, 11.3 million and 6.8 million people, respectively, the provinces house more than half of the country’s population.

While the birth rate is the biggest driver of population increases, migration has emerged as a major contributor for Gauteng and the Western Cape.

Gauteng gained 575 000 new residents due to interprovincial migration, followed by the Western Cape, North West and Mpumalanga.

The Eastern Cape was the biggest exporter of people, losing more than 314 000 residents to other provinces in that period.

Of the more than 1 million foreign nationals who came to South Africa over the past five years, about half settled in Gauteng.

Both these human movements have big implications for spatial planning and the distribution of the fiscal pie.

There was some good news out of the mid-year population estimates – we are living longer.

From the lows of mid-50s in 2006, when Aids-related deaths peaked, life expectancy today stands at 61 for men and 67.7 for women.

The increase can be traced back to 2007, when the effects of government’s comprehensive antiretroviral treatment programme – which started to roll out in 2003 – began to show.

According to Stats SA, “access to antiretroviral treatment has extended the lifespan of many in South Africa who would have otherwise died at an earlier age, as evidenced in the decline of Aids deaths post 2006”.

Infant mortality has sharply declined, from 56.5 per 1 000 in 2002 to 22.1 per 1 000 today.

This is partly attributable to better immunisation programmes and access to preventive care to halve the transition of HIV from mothers to their children.

Another bit of interesting information is that, while we are dying at a lower rate, we are also breeding at a slower rate. Deaths peaked in 2006, again at the height of the Aids epidemic.

In that year, 671 812 deaths were recorded compared with the 541 000 projected for this year.

South Africa’s birth rate, which peaked at 2.66 children per woman in 2008, is now down to 2.32 per woman.

Gauteng and the Western Cape, the most urbanised provinces, had the lowest birth rates, while the more rural provinces of the Eastern Cape and Limpopo produced the most children.

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July 2020

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