Census 2001 – Good News and Bad News?

By Dr Dirk A Prinsloo

Urban Studies

What is Census 2001 telling us?

How will broad trends and changes since the previous Census in 1996 influence property development as well as the urban environment? In a three part series the national census figures will be analysed in order to broaden the understanding of the changing dynamics of our population.

Although the figures used here are on a national or provincial level there are clear trends that are discernable and that will have a definite impact on changes in South African cities and an indirect impact on property development. How do we actually know that the population in 1995 was 43 million? Simply because Francois Pienaar said so in his famous world Cup speech? No it was a guesstimate. We have had to wait until the 2001 Census, regarded as the best in South African history, in terms of covering a large proportion of the total population to get a more definitive measure.

The estimated total population at the moment is 46 million people. According to the 2001 Census the total South African population was assessed at 44 817 782 people. (See Table 1). On that basis we can say that the population has grown by 2% per annum since 1996. The three provinces with large metropolitan areas have shown the highest growth during the period. Gauteng increased by 4% per annum, Western Cape by almost 3%, and KwaZulu Natal by 2,4%. The only other province with a higher than average growth rate is Mpumalanga. This high growth rate is reflected in the tremendous growth that is currently being experienced in Nelspruit, with increases in manufacturing, trade, transport and financial services. Nelspruit is the one city that has gained most as a result of its new capital status and in most cases the local economy has shown growth of 6% per annum.

The smaller, more rural provinces such as the Eastern Cape, Free State, and Limpopo have shown much lower growth during this period. The only province that has shown negative growth is the Northern Cape.


All this clearly indicates an accelerated growth in the urbanisation of South Africa. During 1995/6 some 55,1% of the total population was urbanised compared to the 57,5% by 2001. According to the World Bank the world population of (±6,08 billion) is ±51% urbanised. Normally one expects to see an increase in standards of living and in the Human Development Index with increases in urbanisation. This is not necessarily the situation in South Africa and the proportion of urban poor is showing major increases. The total population of Umlazi for example has increased by almost 100 000 people since 1996, while during the same time the median household income has come down from ±R1 900 per month to R1 600 per month.



In world terms the greater Johannesburg Metropolitan area, with ±5 million people, ranks 55th on the large cities list. It comes in quite a long way down after the leaders, Tokyo with 31 million, New York with 30 million and Mexico City with 21 million. City managers and decision makers can learn a lot from the world’s largest cities; especially how to solve major urban problems (e.g. what Guilliane did in New York to fight and change urban crime, blight and finance).




Graph 2 and 3 show the proportional changes in the size of different population groups in South Africa. The proportion of black African people has increased by 2% while the overall proportion of the other population groups has decreased.





The nett migration figures for South Africa during 1998-2002, clearly indicate a nett loss of ±28 000 (Source: Stats SA, P0351, March 2003) people over the period. Many of the emigrants are returning to South Africa after a couple of years in a foreign country. This also indicates a much more positive attitude towards South Africa, the political situation and the broader performance of the economy.

Illegal immigrants (all foreign/illegal visitors were included in the census) who moved into South Africa from the rest of Africa are a source of concern. The estimated figures vary from 400 000 to 4 million. In specific areas in the inner city of Johannesburg the proportion of foreign residents represents on average 18% of the total population, whereas in other areas such as Hillbrow and Joubert Park it is estimated to be much higher. Unfortunately a lot of negative comments regarding crime, drug trafficking, and other negative social aspects are associated with these illegal residents. These people are also in direct competition for labour with our own citizens.

One of the most positive aspects to emerge from the 2001 Census (provided it is not a product of the AIDS pandemic) is the decrease in the population below 10 years of age. The population pyramids of 1985 and 1996 still display a structure that corresponds with that for a developing country, (i.e. a broad base of young children 0 to 4 years) The latest Census information however clearly indicates a change in pattern more akin to that of a developed country (i.e narrower base of young children 0 to 4 years) The lesser number of children will have an impact on educational facilities, job opportunities and eventually matric results. With a decrease in the dependant side of the population there is a much stronger resemblance with developed countries.




The World Bank predicts that in 2015 the total South African population will be ±44,3 million people. This major reduction is based on the impact that aids will have on the total population. The available estimates for HIV/Aids in South Africa vary between 4,8 million and 6,6 million for currently infected people. This pandemic is huge and the impact of this on the economy and especially on property development, and the property industry, has not yet been quantified. As shown on Graph 5, the tempo of deaths as a result of Aids will probably show a major increase from 2004/5 onwards.

According to the World Bank the current life expectancy of South Africans is 51 years. Previously the figure for South Africa was ±63 years, compared to 80+ in the most developed countries (Japan). The World Bank further predicts that in 2015 the total population of South Africa will have a life expectancy in the low 40s. The main reason for this is the anticipated impact of HIV/Aids. No matter which projections one looks at, it is clear that the impact of HIV/Aids on the population will be major.




One needs to take cognisance of the process of both urbanisation and the migration patterns in South Africa. An indication of the provinces showing a nett loss in term of migration is shown in Graph 6. Whereas only the Western Cape and Gauteng province reflect a nett gain, some 27% of the growth experienced in Gauteng province (during the census period 1996 to 2001) was as a result of more than 400 000 people that have relocated to the province. Gauteng province has attracted migrants from KwaZulu, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, as well as from the Free State. (See Map 1) The Western Cape has attracted almost 200 000 people mainly from the Northern and Eastern Cape. It is expected that this trend will continue, putting more pressure on the provinces’ metropolitan areas. The impact will be most severe in terms of housing and job creation.





The increase in urbanisation levels in South Africa will hopefully improve living standards, socio-economic status and the general Human Development Index of the country. Increased population flows to all our metropolitan areas, large cities and even towns will have a major impact on the provision of land for residential development. In the Greater Johannesburg area there are ±170 000 informal dwellings (shacks) that will have to be formalised and upgraded over time. Great challenges lie ahead to cope with urbanisation and development on the one hand and the impact of HIV/Aids on the other.

In the next article the emphasis will be on employment. In the last article of the series of three, the focus will be on individual and household income. All this will then culminate in a detailed analysis of the United Nations Human Development Index.