Johannesburg inner city. Picture: 123RF/Mirko Vitali
Johannesburg inner city. Picture: 123RF/Mirko Vitali

The midyear population estimates published by Stats SA reveal many encouraging demographic trends, but they also underline the urgent need to increase the rate of job creation and economic growth.

On the plus side, fertility rates are down, mortality rates have improved across the board, life expectancy is well up and the number of Aids-related deaths has declined significantly over the past decade, thanks to the progressive rollout of antiretroviral therapy.

On the other hand, the SA economy needs to grow at the same pace as the population – 1.5% a year — to maintain per-capita income levels.

There are now 57.7-million people living in SA, with about 900,000 more being added each year. Of these, roughly 203,000 are international migrants.

Immigration now accounts for a significant 17% of SA’s population growth; one in every six new people is an immigrant.

The total stock of immigrants accounts for only about 7% of the SA population, however, which is relatively moderate compared with many other African and developing countries, says Diego Iturralde, Stats SA’s chief director of demography.

Political and trend analyst JP Landman says: "SA is clearly becoming an ever-more diverse and cosmopolitan society, causing xenophobic strains and tensions as demonstrated by the sporadic outbursts of violence against foreigners. This means that SA, like many other countries, will have to get better at absorbing and integrating foreigners."

Most of these foreigners appear to be from African countries. According to Stats SA’s estimates, in the five years from 2011 to 2016, almost a million black Africans entered the country on a net basis and 110,434 whites left — equivalent to about 2.4% of the white population.

The black African population at 46.7-million constitutes about 81% of SA’s total population. There are 4.5-million (7.8%) whites, 5.1-million (8.8%) coloureds, and 1.4-million (2.5%) Indian or Asian people. Just over 51% (29.5-million) of the population is female.

Inclusive, jobs-rich economic growth is essential for achieving and maintaining social cohesion in SA. Over the past 70 years, the country has increased per-capita incomes by 1.2% a year on average.

Maintaining this requires real economic growth of close to 3% a year. However, SA will be lucky to grow by 0.5% in 2018. Last year the economy grew by 1.3%, after growth of 0.6% in 2016 and 1.3% in 2015.

Landman notes that SA is now in the fourth year of a "demographic recession". As a result, real per-capita incomes are lower than they were in 2014.

"This explains a lot of the economic stress and pain the country is experiencing."

Moreover, with about 200,000 new jobs a year, SA is creating only half the number of jobs required to maintain the employment rate, never mind reduce it.

Landman estimates that over the past 10 years SA has created roughly 2.6-million jobs. "That helps to broaden the economic base and to create more consumers and taxpayers, but it’s not enough to reduce poverty, unemployment and inequality," he says. "These numbers simply underline the importance of getting the economy going again. Nothing is more important."

SA’s average life expectancy at birth declined between 2002 and 2006, largely due to the effect of HIV/Aids.

But since then, programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission, and widespread access to free antiretroviral treatment, have boosted survival rates.

The annual number of Aids-related deaths has more than halved, from a peak of 293,166 deaths in 2006 to about 115,000 in 2018. In 2008, almost 40% of all deaths in SA were due to the virus; in 2018 only 22% were.

SA’s average life expectancy is now 61.1 years for men and 67.3 for women. Ten years ago, it was only 53.8 and 58.1 respectively. Were it not for the HIV/Aids pandemic, the figures would be 64.5 for men and 71.5 for women, according to Stats SA’s estimates.

About 7.5-million South Africans (13% of the population) are living with the virus. In the 15-49 age group, the HIV prevalence rate is almost 20%. However, HIV prevalence in the 15-24 age group has fallen from 6.7% in 2002 to 5.5% in 2018.

"Access to antiretroviral treatment has changed historical patterns of mortality [and] thus extended the lifespan of many in SA who would have otherwise died at an earlier age," says Landman.

In fact, mortality rates have improved across the board. The infant mortality rate has declined from 53.2 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2002 to 36.4 now, while the under-five mortality rate has declined from 80 child deaths per 1,000 live births to 45 over the same period.

"These are significant and sustained improvements," says Landman.

He also considers the decline in the fertility rate — from an average of 5.8 children per woman in the 1970s to 2.6 in 2009 and 2.4 in 2018 — a positive development. This would seem to indicate that the expansion of childhood grants in recent years has not encouraged more births.

It is likely that increasing urbanisation, access to basic education, medical services and the world of work, as well as changing perceptions about women’s role in society, have all played a part in reducing SA’s fertility rate, he says.

What it means

Life expectancy is up but South Africans are getting poorer

Migration is an important demographic process in that it shapes the age structure and distribution of the provincial population.

Gauteng and the Western Cape continue to receive the highest number of immigrants from other provinces and from abroad.

Over the five years to 2016, Gauteng added 980,088 people through net migration. It is expected to attract 1.04-million more people in the five years to 2021, of which nearly 500,000 will be from outside SA.

The Western Cape gained 292,099 people over the five years to 2016 through net migration. It is set to attract another 311,004 — 117,805 of them from outside SA — in the five years to 2021.

The Eastern Cape and Gauteng typically experience the largest outflow of migrants — the latter by virtue of being the largest province in terms of population; the former presumably due to the lack of work opportunities.

Over the first five-year period studied (2011-2016), the Eastern Cape lost 320,066 people through net migration. Over the next five-year period (2016-2021), it is expected to lose a similar number, which brings the total exodus for the 10-year period (2011-2021) to a net 643,917 people.

Gauteng has the largest share of the population at 14.7-million (25.5%), followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 11.4-million (19.7%), the Western Cape with 6.6-million (11.5%) and the Eastern Cape with 6.5-million (11.3%). The Northern Cape — geographically the largest province — is the smallest in terms of numbers, with just over 1.2-million people, or 2% of the population.

Almost 30% of the population is younger than 15 years and equal proportions (roughly 21% each) live in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Limpopo (34.3%) and the Eastern Cape (34.4%) have the highest proportions of people younger than 15.

"With about 200,000 new jobs a year, SA is creating only half the number of jobs required to maintain the employment rate, never mind reduce it"