Stats SA has published its mid-year population estimates for 2020, showing how the country’s population numbers have grown over the last 12 months.
The data shows that the country is fast approaching the 60 million population mark, with the current estimate sitting at 59.6 million people, up from 58.8 million a year ago.
This net gain of around 800,000 people has been credited to 1.2 million births, and an addition of 170,000 new migrants, offset by 520,000 deaths.
Around 57% of all South Africans live in just three provinces: Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal and the Western Cape, StatsSA said.
Gauteng is by far the largest province in the country in terms of population size, with 15.5 million people – more than a quarter of the population – now occupying the 18,100 square kilometre region.
Over the last five years, the province’s population growth rate has also exceeded all others – 13.4%.
The latest data shows that Gauteng has seen the largest inflow of migrants, with 1.55 million people moving into the area between 2016 and 2021.
This includes migrants from other provinces as well as outside the country, Stats SA said.
The stats body said that Gauteng’s economic strength is attractive to migrants. This has been a long-tracked trend, with Stats SA noting that people migrate for various reasons – economic, social-political, cultural or environmental.
“The economic strength of Gauteng relates to ‘pull’ factors that influence its attractiveness to migrants. Better economic opportunities, jobs, and the promise of a better life are some of the factors that make Gauteng an attractive destination,” it said.
On a net basis (factoring in those from Gauteng who are moving elsewhere), the province is estimated to have received 980,400 new people – more than three times any other province.
Covid-19 and pattern change
Stats SA noted that its modelling does not account for “population-wide behaviour changes in response to high levels of mortality”, and as such, may not reflect the path ahead for provinces given the coronavirus pandemic.
“Understanding of the virus’s epidemiology is continually evolving, both locally and globally. For the purpose of the publication of these mid-year estimates, we have cautiously adopted to base our estimates on current empirical data sources used to guide the estimates,” it said.
Gauteng’s high population density also puts it in particular risk for high rates of Covid-19 infection and mortalities, which will undoubtedly have some impact on population figures.
As of 8 July, Gauteng has overtaken the Western Cape as the epicentre of South Africa’s Covid-19 outbreak, recording over 75,000 infections – nearly a third of all cases.
Officials have warned that cases in the province could reach 120,000 cases by the end of July, and hit as high as 300,000 cases by August.
High infection numbers are also leading to issues around healthcare and treatment, with warnings from medical professionals and government that the province could face a lack of hospital beds.
Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday (8 July) health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize cautioned that bed capacity is still projected to be overwhelmed in all provinces. He cited specific issues with the number of ICU beds in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng.
“Bed capacity, including all currently committed public and private-sector beds is expected to be breached in the next four weeks.”