Still the city of gold

Given its climate, particular racial make-up and associated politics, the Western Cape might be thought of as South Africa’s stand-out province. But the really odd man out, on whom our future wellbeing depends, continues to be Gauteng, inheritor of the dreams of mining pioneers.

Almost an inland city-state, Gauteng provided a third of SA’s economic earnings last year. It did this with 24% of the country’s population, up a quarter in the last 10 years and projected to grow to 27% in just the next seven. For this is a province of immigrants. The 2011 census found just over half the people in the province having been born in it. Of the 46% from elsewhere, 18% weren’t even born in SA.

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO), a joint standing research project of the Gauteng provincial government and the universities of Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand, says that the number of households in the province increased by a third in the decade to 2011, to 3.9 million. That gave the province a population density of 672 people per km², where the rest of South Africa enjoys a more roomy 42 people per km².

That is probably more a good than a bad thing. Currently it means a city region similar in density to Barcelona and Brussels and as intensely dense as New York and Los Angeles by 2020. Greater population densities make the provision of services in many ways easier and more cost-effective, provided the state can keep up with demand. Right now, and despite migrants to Gauteng erecting 96% of the country’s shacks the past 10 years, service delivery is keeping pace.

A 2011 GCRO “quality of life survey” puts 88% of Gautengers in formal housing, up from the 75% counted in the 1996 census. Piped water in dwellings is had by 92% of households, access to flush toilets by 96%, and 90% have electricity.

In many ways, Gauteng is a stand-alone world metropolis in Africa. Home to one third of all jobs in the country, almost half (44%) of its people have internet access (including through cell ‘phones). A study by the Swiss bank UBS suggests that it’s middling in economic strength compared to its peers. Earnings per hour (constant prices) have increased substantially since 2000 and are far higher than similar emerging economy cities (although nowhere near some European and US levels).

On average, you’d work 94 hours to afford a new iPhone in Jo’burg, but that same purchase would take you 184 hours of slog in Beijing and 435 hours in Manila. In the 72 cities surveyed, Johannesburgers rank 37th from the top in earnings, better than other African and most Asian and Latin American cities, and on a par with Hong Kong and Athens.

Meanwhile, the natural population growth rate is falling throughout South Africa, with urbanisation a major cause. So the Institute for Futures Research noted population growth of only 0.6% in 2010 and projects this to fall to -0,1% by 2040. Off this come higher per capita incomes, lower service delivery and welfare obligations, decreasing needs for infrastructure investment, and the like. In a relatively short time, the movement of people to SA’s economic heart will help push the entire country to greater economic opportunity.

– Paul Pereira (First published in The Citizen, 16 April 2013)