Of all the current social and demographic trends revealed by South Africa’s latest census, arguably none presents the country with a bigger challenge than the rapid pace of urbanisation it exposed. Added pressures around poverty, housing, unemployment, crime, social and municipal service delivery all increases pressure to the point of bursting.
Last week we discussed that if South Africa wished to deal successfully with its many social and economic ills 18 years after the advent of full democracy, it will have to come to grips process of rapid urbanisation.
South Africa’s third post-apartheid demographic stocktaking exercise, Census 2011, shows the country's population has increased to 51.8 million from 44.8 million in 2001 and 40.5 million in 1996.
A major part of that growth took place in the urban areas of South Africa’s richest provinces, Gauteng and the Western Cape, which are also home to the country’s largest cities. But the figures indicate that population growth has also taken place in other provinces’ urban areas.
The biggest growth took place in Gauteng – a province that consists almost entirely of urban sprawl and contains three of South Africa’s eight metropolitan municipalities.
Gauteng overtook KwaZulu-Natal as the country's most populous province, its population having almost doubled since 1996, from 7 million people to 12.3 million. While part of this increase is attributed to natural growth, a substantial part of it resulted from in-migration from other provinces and from other countries. The same applies to the Western Cape where the population grew by 28.7% to 5.9 million in 2011.
The shifting patterns and resulting pressures were recently seen in various developments around the country:from the closure of unsustainable schools in rural areas in several provinces with new ones mostly being built in urban areas to increased service delivery protests especially in informal settlements that have mushroomed around the country’s major cities.
Data and intelligence service Municipal IQ’s latest Service delivery protest report says that 2012 accounts for 22% of all protests recorded between January 2004 and July 2012, with January to July alone recording more protests than any other full year since 2004.
Municipal IQ economist, Karen Heese, says 88% of protests in July turned violent, while almost half of these took place in informal settlements and “speaks to the desperation of these communities living on the margins of local economies during the bitter winter months”.
The census results will undoubtedly cause government to adjust its provincial and local government budget allocations, with more money having to go to provinces like the Western Cape and Gauteng to deal with the influx of people and provide adequate services.
Already, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, in reaction to the census findings, said Gauteng’s rapid increase in population had placed significant demand on public services, especially health, safety and education and called on national government to redetermine budget allocations.
"We believe that the national government should take cognisance of the Census results to determine the allocation of financial resources in accordance with those facts," she said.
In the Western Cape Premier Helen Zille said that the population growth “should trigger the government, business, civil society, communities and individual citizens to redouble their efforts to ‘go green’ by striving for resource efficiency and integrating sustainability practices into everyday living”.
And while the Census results could also force government policymakers back to the drawing board to readjust the mix of envisaged urban versus rural development, and possibly adjusting some of the focus of its infrastructure development programme, the national government is nonetheless aware of the urbanisation process.
For instance, shortly before the release of Census 2011, President Jacob Zuma told guests at the African Farmers Association of South Africa (Afasa) gala dinner in Pretoria that “our long-term vision document, the National Development Plan, forecasts that by 2030, more than 70% of South Africa's population will live in urban areas, compared to just over 60% today”.
In a statement Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) CEO Graham Pirie said the rapid urbanisation exposed by Census 2011 is cause for concern and “brings new dynamics into play in terms of new infrastructure spend”. This, he says, calls for “more infrastructure investment and innovative funding models”.
Pirie noted that this will bring major opportunities to the built environment fraternity in respect of infrastructure requirements to improve the quality of lives of people.
Much of the rapid urbanisation and proliferation of informal settlements resulted from apartheid-era black homelands and the scrapping of influx control laws which no longer restrict the free movement of people, President Zuma pointed out at the opening of the House of Traditional Leaders in Parliament last week.
But as the government’s Vision 2030 also points out, South Africa’s rapid urbanisation is part of a global phenomenon. Census 2011 also shows that much of the urbanisation is due to people arriving from other countries.
The World Disasters Report 2012, released by the International Red Cross last week, indicates that more than 70 million people have been forced to leave their homes because of conflict, political upheaval and disasters, as well as by climate change and development projects.
They live as long-term or permanent migrants in other countries. This requires governments and humanitarian agencies to adopt more flexible approaches to migration and integration. The cost to the international community of forced migration is at least $8 billion a year.
The report stresses that forced migration has become increasingly 'urbanised' as cities and urban areas become the main destinations for refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs), and those affected by disasters and conflicts. Unlike in the 1980s and 1990s about half of the world's estimated 10.5 million refugees and at least 13 million IDPs are now thought to live in urban areas.
South African urban areas have also experienced an influx of immigrants and refugees from countries such as Zimbabwe, DRC and Somalia in recent years, many living in urban informal settlements.
Census 2011 also showed that of South Africa’s 18.8 million strong labour force, 5.6 million are unemployed and 14.4million are not economically active. Most of these unemployed people – many of whom are youth – live in urban areas and especially in informal settlements. This puts enormous pressure on housing, employment opportunities and social services. It makes for an explosive situation easily exploited by political opportunists.