Why Joburg is the best city in South Africa

 ·18 Mar 2015
Joburg city

A new report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) ranks the best cities in Africa when it comes to investment and future growth.

PwC isolated and ranked the top 20 African cities of opportunity according to five key metrics, namely: the current state of development and future potential; location; nature of opportunity; ‘must-have’ features; and time-scale for investments.

The ranking also looked at 29 variables across four categories – including infrastructure, human capital, economics and social demographics – to determine the defining scores.

In South Africa, Johannesburg ranked third among the 20 African cities, with a score of 377.

The city was ranked below Tunis, Tunisia (417) and Cairo, Egypt (438).

Top 10 cities in Africa

# City Score
1 Cairo 438
2 Tunis 417
3 Johannesburg 377
4 Casablanca 364
5 Algiers 336
6 Accra 332
7 Nairobi 321
7 Lagos 321
9 Addis Ababa 312
10 Kampala 308
Africa top cities

Africa top cities

Johannesburg performance

Category Rank Score
Economics 4th 115
Infrastructure 3rd 107
Human capital 2nd 81
Society and demographics 14th 74
Overall 3rd 377

Across the four categories, Joburg scored most points in economics, despite being ranked 4th overall in that segment.

The city ranked top in Africa for its financial services and GPD per capita, and second for being home to top-500 companies, and for ease of doing business.

However, being the economic giant of a country with one of the highest pay gaps in the world, the city is ranked stone last for its GINI coefficient.

Joburg also scores top marks for communication infrastructure, airport connectivity and levels of literacy and numeracy in Africa – as well as ranking highly for levels of health expenditure, transport infrastructure, and number of enrolled graduates.

Places where the city falls flat, however, include the cost of housing, a poor health system and slow rate of GDP growth.

Joburg’s worst-performing segment is social demographics, where it ranks 14th out of the 20 cities.

Factors which drag the city down include slow growth of the middle class in the city (high disparity between the rich and poor) as well as high levels of crime – the second-worst out of all ranked cities.

Joburg ranked last for levels of diversity (Weighted combination of a country’s migration balance) and population growth in that segment.

Why Joburg rocks

According to PwC, Johannesburg is a city that is “the exception that proves the rule”. It sits as an outlier, being the only sub-Saharan city in the top 5, and also one of the ‘youngest’ cities on the list.

The origins of #1, Cairo, go back (at least) to the fourth century AD, of #2 Tunis to the fourth century BC, of #4 Casablanca to the seventh century AD, and of #5 Algiers to the fifth century AD.

Officially founded in 1886, Johannesburg is thus a relatively young city, compared to other cities ranked.

In its short time, it quickly developed a wide-ranging urban infrastructure and municipal organisation that was comparable to more mature, and much larger and more affluent, cities, PwC noted.

Notably, the report highlights that the city has experienced rapid growth since its birth:

  • Johannesburg’s first theater opened a year after the city’s creation (1887);
  • its first library three years after that (1890);
  • its electric tram in 1906;
  • the University of the Witwatersrand in 1922;
  • its symphony orchestra five years later (1927);
  • the city’s first airport four years after that (1931);
  • its botanical gardens in 1964;
  • and its university-level film and television school in 1994;
  • Meanwhile, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange is 128 years old – just a year younger than the city itself.

“The point, obviously, is that Johannesburg was never just an economic and financial centre (born out of the Witwatersrand Gold Rush),” the report said.

“It was also, literally from the first moment of its municipal existence, a city that diligently planned and put into place an infrastructural, social, and cultural base that would allow it to thrive and prosper in the future.”

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