Run on Numbers: Census 2023 data gives SA opportunity to reflect and accept reality

The census outcomes for 2023 have given us a factual basis to work from. Picture:Paballo Thekiso, Independent Media.

The census outcomes for 2023 have given us a factual basis to work from. Picture:Paballo Thekiso, Independent Media.

Published Oct 28, 2023


1. A quick look at the graph below shows how many people in South African households have the most important household items, such as mobile phones, stoves, refrigerators, and even television sets.

Personally, I am getting on in years, yet I can attest to the fact that my grandparents never had the above five items in their home, some of which did not even exist back then. Both the infant mortality rate and the under-5-year-old mortality rates have halved over the last decade, and we must give credit to our hospitals, doctors, and medical staff, who all play a part in ensuring that this is possible.

2. A bitter-sweet statistic is the total number of social grant recipients, which has now grown to 18 829 716, and this does not include the interim Social Relief of Distress (SRD) Grant, which is administered in terms of app-section 32 of the Social Assistance Act, 2004 (Act No. 13 of 2004).

There are an estimated further 10 million people receiving this grant. The grant is probably going to remain on the budget for a further number of years. This takes us to a total grant recipient number of more than 28 million people, or 45% of the citizens of this country. On the one hand, one wishes to applaud the government for looking after its people, but on the other hand, it is not sustainable for 7 million taxpayers to contribute enough to sustain all. The government policies must switch from giving a fish to teaching people how to fish.

One does not want to harp on the same topic over and over, but the damage to the economy and the citizens of the country cannot continue with the mismanagement of our SOEs. We all understand that certain key institutions must be government-controlled, but only if it is done with efficiency. It is time for Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordon to receive gardening leave. He can still receive his salary, but we urgently need the best businessperson in the country to fill his position. We need to fix the ports, passenger and freight railway system. We also need someone to fix the Land Bank. What a nightmare that a government-backed bank had to renege on its loans to bondholders.

The entity is not a commercial going concern. One only needs to read the comment stated in its 2023 annual report: “Since Land Bank went into default in April 2020, the shareholders have been very supportive through this process as evidenced by the continued engagements with all stakeholders through the restructuring process as well as by the R10 billion allocated to recapitalise Land Bank. R3 billion was transferred to the Land Bank in September 2020, another R6 billion in March 2023, and the remaining R1 billion will be transferred during the 2023/2024 financial year.”

3. Anyone who has heard the story of our national hero, captain of the Springboks, South Africa’s rugby team, Siya Kolisi, relating to his early years and home circumstances, will know how important it is to have a place you can call home. Heart-wrenching to hear, yet for a household to fully rely on only one person's old age grant is not that uncommon. In SA, there are over 40% of households in this category, according to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA). The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche may not have known Kolisi, but he knew of men like him when, in 1888, he wrote: “What doesn't kill me, makes me stronger.” There was a lot of that in Kolisi's life and that of many South Africans like him.

What may play an important role is, for me at least, a very disturbing statistic regarding marital status, which is indicative of many other concerns. The statistics regarding the percentage distribution of the population by marital status and age group indicate that: “Not everyone is Siya Kolisi-he is the exception, not the rule. His current life and choices are a testament to that.

The above graph shows the improvement in the type of homes of our citizens. It is further very encouraging to note that 40% of homes are fully paid with no bonds outstanding. This is a foundation on which one can build. Homes can act as security for affordable finance provided if it is directed wisely.

4. Infrastructure overload.

What the latest census figures tell us is that South Africa is increasingly accommodating the inflow of foreigners, especially from our neighbouring countries. The numbers are as follows. Zimbabweans 1 012 059, Mozambicans 416 564, Basotho 227 770, and Malawians 198 807. These numbers are probably understated as some foreigners are here in SA illegally and are scared of deportation.

Many of these people work for the minimum wage as it provides them with a better income than what they can earn in their countries. Yet, it is sad to see that they need to spend more than two months' income to visit their family left behind. It is just not humane, and one is not sure that if one is to deny them a job, a South African will be prepared to take the vacant job at the same salary. The recent Road Accident Fund decision not to cover foreigners for injuries on our roads is correct, in principle. Charity starts at home. We do not have enough funds to cover our own injured people. Therefore, we should not extend cover to foreigners, much as we would like to do so. What we do know is that these immigrants use our infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, water resources, and electricity. Most of them did not contribute over a lifetime to the infrastructure that they enjoy alongside South Africans who have paid taxes their entire lives.

5. Facts speak for themselves.

The census outcomes for 2023 have given us a factual basis to work from. We all know the data may not be 100% accurate, as obtaining correct information will always only be as good as the resources used to obtain it. However, they are a base to work from, and we must accept that, in principle, this is what we need to work from. In South Africa, we have limited resources, and we must make the difficult call. We need to decide to direct resources towards creating opportunities for people to lift themselves out of poverty, or we must continue to go down the bottomless pit to a socialist state that provides consumer products. There is no success formula, but we know that we need to trust the processes that we know can create opportunities. Our education system must offer value for money, as does every single institution that receives an allocation from the budget.