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A population of 62m (poorer) people


The most notable figure in the 2022 census of SA’s population is confirmation that the population increased to above 62 million people, which is close to 20% higher than in the previous census 10 years ago. An immediate thought that comes to mind is that the economy did not grow this much.

Many more people need to eat from a cake that is only slightly bigger. Everyone is getting a smaller slice.



Read: South Africa’s 2022 census missed 31% of people

Statistics SA says the census found that the population increased from 51.7 million in 2011 to more than 62 million in 2022. While it notes that the increase represents a growth rate of 1.8% per annum, Stats SA’s job does not include comparing this with SA’s economic growth. If it had, the launch of the results would have been less festive.

The gross domestic product (GDP) increased by only 12% over the same period. The result is a marked decline in GDP per capita.

Christo Luüs, economist at Ecoquant, says it is obvious that GDP per capita had been negative over the past 10 years, adding that we are “back at the levels of 2006”.

“We had two bad years – 2009 due to the global financial crisis and 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic – which had a big impact on the figures.”

Read: SA population rises 20% to 62m, census signals

“However, our population growth is still too high and our economic growth too low. According to the United Nations, global population growth decelerated from more than 2% in the 1960s to less than 1% currently. SA’s population is increasing much faster than this.”

Luüs supplied figures that show only negligible growth in GDP since 2011, from R4.1 trillion to the current R4.6 trillion.

However, economic growth only exceeded population growth in only five of the last 12 years.

Luüs calculates current GDP per capita at R74 276 (real GDP per person per annum), compared to R74 858 in 2006. GDP per capita did increase from 2006 to R79 430 in 2013, but it has been downhill since.

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“Overall GDP growth is hampered by inefficient and thoughtless policies, to0 much red tape, a large civil service, too little privatisation, too little maintenance and expansion of infrastructure, state institutions that have failed or are failing, crime, loss of skills, a growing tax burden and a low savings rate,” says Luüs.

GDP per capita

Source: Based on Sarb data

Dawie Roodt, chief economist of Efficient Group, also laments the low economic growth rate of the past 10 years, blaming “mostly incompetent and corrupt government” and “wrong economic policies”.

He says the outlook for the next 10 years is not good either.

“The ANC got us here and it is likely to be in government again [after the 2024 elections].

“Policies are not going to change,” says Roodt.

‘Strikingly low’ economic growth

Dr Elna Moolman, economist at Standard Bank, notes that real economic growth averaged just 1% over the past 10 years. “This is strikingly low for a developing country, and is inadequate to support fiscal debt stabilisation (on its own) or a decline in unemployment (assuming that everything else stays the same).

“Over the past 10 years, the outbreak of Covid-19 and accompanying lockdown played a significant role. However, idiosyncratic growth constraints such as the persistent power shortage and, particularly more recently, logistical infrastructure bottlenecks and inefficiencies, are partly to blame.

“SA needs to address binding growth constraints to ensure a higher growth trend,” says Moolman.

“We have seen the impact of policy reforms in the electricity sector, where government announced reforms, tweaked them where necessary to address specific practical considerations, and then we saw an exceedingly strong response from the private sector.

“The other growth constraints are well understood, but SA needs to accelerate credible implementation of the rest of the reform agenda.”

A better indicator than GDP?

Moolman says GDP and GDP per capita are not the only statistics to focus on.

“GDP is still a very useful metric to consider – it is readily available, easy to track over time and easy to compare across countries.

“There is growing literature on the shortcomings of GDP as measure of the standard of living and wellbeing,” she says, adding that Standard Bank would typically look at the type of dwelling people stay in (formal compared to others), access to piped water, toilet facilities and energy for cooking and lighting.

Roodt says a good statistic to measure the general standard of living is life expectancy. “It correlates with everything that is good.”

Census 2022 did not only count the population, but also collected data about the demographics of the population, people’s living arrangements, ablution facilities and their level of and access to education – all indicators of their standard of living.

Nobody can contest that the difference between (even the cheapest) porcelain toilet and a bucket or a pit latrine, or not even having access to a pit.



The census found that approximately 71% of people have access to a flush toilet, up from 60% in 2011, while nearly 22% of people in SA still use pit toilets (28% in 2011), and around 2.5% of people still use a bucket for a toilet, translating to 1.5 million people.

There are actually more people in SA using the bucket system than in 2011, when fewer than 1.2 million did.

However, this is the result of a huge decline in the proportion of the population who previously had nothing to call a toilet – down from 5.2% in 2011 to 1.2% in 2022.

Stats SA says the Western Cape (94%) and Gauteng (90%) showed the highest levels of access to flush toilets. “The Northern Cape still contends with 4.5% of households using bucket toilets as their primary toilet facility.

Read: South Africa undertakes its most important census since the end of apartheid

“KwaZulu-Natal shows a mix, with 59% using flush toilets, 29% using pit latrines and 7% using chemical toilets. In the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, 4.5% and 3% of households respectively reported having no toilet facilities.

“The majority of the households in Limpopo, more than half (58%), used a pit latrine with or without a ventilation pipe as their main type of toilet facility,” according to the census results.

Do we need to point out that the above figures about toilets are dismal?

Piped water

The figures related to government supplying piped water to households are, if one looks closer, equally sad.

Stats SA says more than 82% of all households have access to piped water, either inside their homes or inside the yard. In 2022, 60% of households had piped water inside their homes, up from 44% in 1996.

Unfortunately, the census reported elsewhere that the number of households has nearly doubled since 1996, from 9.1 million to 17.8 million.

Thus, a few calculations show that the total number of households without any water or getting a bucket of water from a communal tap only declined from 3.6 million in 1996 to 3.1 million in 2022.

The number of households without piped water inside their homes increased from 5.1 million to 7.1 million as service delivery did not keep up with the increase in households.

Stats SA does acknowledge some of the shortcomings. “Although there was an increase in the proportion of households with piped water, the rate of increase slowed over time.

“Almost half of households (48%) reported experiencing water interruptions for two or more consecutive days. Northern Cape (66%) had the highest proportion reporting water interruptions, followed by North West (65%). The least occurrence in water interruptions was recorded in the Western Cape (28%),” it says.


The statisticians also tried to put a positive spin on the “increase” in the prevalence of formal housing compared to shacks, calculating that nearly 89% of households occupy formal housing in 2022 compared to 65% at the time of the 1996 census.

Once again, the increase in the number of households means the number of households in informal settlements remained nearly the same (1.47 million in 1996 and 1.4 million in 2022).

The census recorded more than 55 000 homeless individuals, either roofless or making use of shelters. Homelessness was more prevalent in metropolitan areas (74%) with Tshwane recording the highest proportion of homeless persons (18%), followed by Johannesburg at 16%.

Looking at the top reasons for homelessness, job loss or no income was the most cited, followed by alcohol and drug abuse.

The census found that households with internet access increased sharply, to 79% in 2022 from 35% in 2011.

Internet access via cellphone was the most common source of internet for most households.

Stats SA also touched on another area of service delivery failure, that of refuse removal.

“Households in the Western Cape (89%) and Gauteng (85%) were more likely to have their refuse removed regularly (at least once a week), in contrast with the remaining seven provinces which recorded percentages below the national average (66%).

“Limpopo recorded the lowest percentage (32%) of households with regular refuse removal services,” it said.

The census found that more than 90% of households had access to electricity (for at least lighting), a substantial increase from the 58% recorded in 1996.

However, it made no mention of load shedding.

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