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SA's population

Exactly how big is our population?

The true size of SA’s population has been open to speculation for years – and the failed census of 2001 did not add any clarity. Is it 49, 50 or even 60 million? Some accuracy on the matter would be of great assistance to SA food companies.

50 million and counting… This article is by well-known SA economist, Mike Schussler

The South African population officially surpassed 50 million people in July 2010. This figure – from Statistics SA – is probably very conservative as many other researchers in the country have figures that show that our population probably surpassed 50 million sometime before July 2010, and probably as early as 2008.

This means that the advertising agencies and research houses have been getting the numbers wrong for quite a while.

In October this year a census will be carried out – hopefully more efficiently than the one conducted in 2001, when many unemployed and unskilled people were given temporary jobs assisting the population with filling in the census forms, as well as collecting the forms.

Many forms remained uncollected in most cities. Many townhouse complexes were left without forms. Some towns saw white and coloured population declines of as much as 90%. Black old-age pensioners were missed in many suburbs as people forgot to enquire about who was staying on the property and not just in the house.

This time around, many of the people will be trained by one of the biggest personnel agencies in the country and they will specifically be selected for their ability to fill in forms correctly and to communicate with people.

However, as always, they will remain temporary workers and that may not be the best motivational factor. We are likely to have to guess some of the numbers, but hopefully the guessing game won’t be as big as the 17.9% adjustment (read guess) we had to make in 2001.

It seems likely that the number of people in SA was perhaps even higher than the 44 million we guessed in 2001 and perhaps the adjustment should have been 25% or even 30% higher. Perhaps our population was already 46 million or 48 million then.

Taking just the old-age grants in the country into account – even after adjusting for higher population growth than was previously thought – it turns out that the grant numbers today make up well over 120% of the population aged over 80.

The population of those over 65 years’ old receiving state age grants alone reaches nearly 80% and is still growing. Add private pensions and this number rises to over 110% again – an extra 250,000 people at least.

Add salary income as some older people are still forced to work and the number reaches about 120% of the official population. This number would still exclude people who do not receive any form of pension or survive from their husband’s or wife’s pension or their children’s income.

I would say that may conservatively add another 10% to the actual population numbers. It appears that that people over 65 have been underestimated by about 30% or even 35%. That means at least another 750,000 extra older people in the country.

While pension numbers are probably the best indicator that our population is under-estimated by a huge amount, there are other signs that our population is larger than thought.

The number of people documented entering the country but not documented leaving the country over the past decade has been close to six million.

Furthermore, the number of cellphones in the country exceeds the number of people – and as a young country with many poor people this is not quite what one would have expected.

Other figures, such as the amount of money in the form of notes and coins that is in circulation, also indicate a bigger informal sector and a larger growing informal sector than those indicated by Stats SA’s Labour Force survey over the past few years.

I believe that we do have a very high unemployment number in this country and one of the highest in the world. However, there are many instances where you see evidence that South Africans and other people living in this country are doing more to help themselves then we thought.

One could go on, but the population numbers are very, very, very likely to be adjusted upwards and the average age will probably also be lifted upwards by quite a few years.

Using the South African Social Security Agency numbers, unemployment insurance fund (UIF) numbers and cellphone operator numbers, I think we will get a South African population figure closer to 60 million than 50 million.

These numbers are very important as they help us as a country to decide where to spend our resources. The numbers may also affect our labour force and unemployment figures. And they are certain to influence policy.

We may actually end up needing 11 or 12 million jobs, not five or nine million as budget numbers indicate.

So please, statistically and officially, SA already has 50 million people. We need to accept this, because otherwise the shock of SA having about 60 million people will be a lot greater.

Please, advertising agencies, do not keep on underestimating our population in every radio and television advert you produce.

While I do not want to try to estimate the number of people in SA at present, I am fairly convinced that we are closer to 60 million than we are to 50 million, as we are now in 2011.

The census this year is more important than ever and we need the right people to run this project or we will all be the poorer for it.

Source: TimesLive. Mike Sch ssler is a director at

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