The first ten years of democratic change in South Africa have been accompanied by significant social trends, posing challenges for government programmes and bringing into sharp relief the tasks that lie ahead. These trends have had a critical effect on the progress and impact of transformation, and will need to be fully understood and incorporated into our plans for the future. In some senses they have made the process of social change more difficult since government programmes have had to respond to needs that have been evolving since the 1994 elections. These major trends, identified in government’s ‘Towards a Ten Year Review’ discussion document, include changes in the size of households, migration to urban areas, structural changes in the economy, and a dramatic increase in the economically active population. These trends are most noticeable in the 1996 and 2001 census results, as well as other data. Between the two censuses, the population grew by about 11 percent from 40.4 million in 1996 to 44.8 million in 2001. Yet during the same period there was an increase of about 30 percent in the number of households in the country. This disproportionately high growth in the number of households is accompanied by a reduction in the average number of people per household. While this may point to progress in relieving pressures of ‘crowding’ in households, it also poses major challenges for service delivery. The more households there are, the more houses need to be built. Other services, like water, sanitation and electricity, similarly need to be supplied to a greater number of points. There is also a greater demand for land for housing. This is particularly so in provinces like Gauteng , where the average household size is lower, at 3.1 persons, than the national average of 3.8. Provinces like the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu Natal are not as badly affected, with an average of 4.2 people per household – higher than the national average, but still lower than the 1996 average. The government report cites a number of reasons for the drop in household size, including “a decline in fertility rates and family size, the effect of new government policy on how citizens try to access services, encouraging ‘unbundling’, as well as freedom and improvement in quality of life, resulting in fewer extended families”. There was also disproportionately high growth in the economically active labour force, which grew at about four percent a year compared to the population growth rate of only two percent.This meant that while around 1,6 million net new jobs were created between 1995 and 2002, the number of unemployed people grew by around 2,4 million people. The number of jobs being created were simply not nearly enough to satisfy the growth in demand for jobs. “This suggests that new job seekers were not only young adults reaching the job market, but were older adults who had not previously considered themselves part of the labour market,” the document notes. It says evidence from qualitative case studies indicates that many of these are African women, and, of these, many are recent migrants from rural areas. Since unemployment is probably the greatest challenge facing the country today, the implications of this trend need to be understood and accounted for in the design and implementation of social policies. It is also important to counter the simplistic view of the country’s unemployment problem that is loudly propagated by many in opposition parties. Another of the major social trends identified – the changing structure of the economy – also has important implications for how the country tackles unemployment. While all sectors of the economy showed increased employment from 1995 to 2002, there was a distinct shift of employment away from public services, construction, mining and quarrying towards internal trade and finance, real estate and business service sectors. This suggests long-run prospects for expansion lie in the services sectors. This means that economic sectors which are likely to grow in the future are those which require higher levels of skills. If unemployment is to be tackled, the job seekers need to be more skilled than at a time when jobs were being created in sectors with lower skills requirements. The report concludes that one of the major consequences of the change in the structure of the economy is that ‘two economies’ persist in one country. The first economy is advanced, based on skilled labour and globally competitive. The second economy is mainly informal, unskilled and marginalised. “Despite the impressive gains made in the first economy, the benefits of growth have yet to reach the second economy, and with the enormity of the challenges arising from the social transition, the second economy risks falling further behind if there is no decisive government intervention,” the report says. The fourth social trend identified is increased migration to urban areas. It poses several challenges to social delivery and planning. Census data shows that in major metropolitan areas, and in some of the regional centres and small towns, more than one fifth of the population are new migrants. This has seen a major movement of people to the major urban centres of Gauteng and the Western Cape away from the rural areas of the Northern Cape , Eastern Cape and Limpopo – resulting in the emergence of new, mainly informal settlements around major towns and cities. The report notes that this has implications not only for resources allocations, but also for the approach to spatial development. It is also affecting social relations. Connections to authority structures are under pressure and the ability of people to interact on a collective basis has been weakened. “In rural areas, social capabilities are undermined by the loss of able-bodied and relatively skilled people, and existing social networks are put under pressure by poverty and lack of income. In urban areas, this migration risks overwhelming service delivery and employment opportunities.” When combined, these social trends adversely affect social cohesion and community cohesion, undermining the development potential of some areas and giving rise to increased criminality in others. These problems are then reflected in lower levels of social delivery and increasing problems in governance. But, the report notes, despite these economic and social changes, government has made significant progress towards addressing their negative effects. The size, pace and direction of this social change has made the process of transformation more challenging. But it has not diminished the determination of the ANC-led government to succeed.
This article first appeared in ANC Today – 28 November, 2003 MORE INFORMATION: Towards a Ten Year Review, October 2003 http://www.gov.za/issues/10years/index.html