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19 September 2014 21:39 (South Africa)
South Africa

General Household Survey 2012: Arrested Development?

  • Paul Berkowitz
  • South Africa
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On Thursday Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) released the results of its general household survey (GHS) for 2012 and a second report which highlights a number of development indicators in the GHS. The GHS is a sort of annual mini-census that StatsSA has administered since 2002. PAUL BERKOWITZ examines the development trends of the last decade.

Development can be an amorphous concept. Most of us share the hope that tomorrow will be better than today and that our children’s lives will be richer than ours. Where we differ is how to measure this progress.

There’s the standardised human development index (HDI) released annually by the UN. It ranks countries’ development by life expectancy, literacy rates and per capital income. It has nothing to say about the quality of life in this country compared to that one, nor does it comment on the distribution of income in a particular country. It has nothing to say about the distribution of wealth in a country or its citizens’ ability to create wealth or remain trapped in poverty.

Development is also a controversial topic, charged with ideologies and politics. The HDI is probably the most popular development index with the widest scope but it has its critics, as do most development measurements and studies. The results of the GHS will be viewed through many different lenses.

Here’s a summary of the GHS (or rather, the report released by StatsSA based on the GHS). The GHS is an annual survey that covers tens of thousands of households across the country. It does not cover the whole country.

It covers the entire country but only presents an analysis at a provincial level of disaggregation. There is no real urban/rural split in the analysis, so the results of some indicators are an average of the rural and urban figures in a particular province.

This leads to a wide range of provincial averages for particular indicators. In particular, the performance of Gauteng and the Western Cape is very different from the other provinces for many indicators. Sometimes it’s better (mostly for health, wealth and education measures), sometimes it’s worse (prevalence of informal housing, exacerbated by high rates of in-migration).

The strong urban bias of these two provinces must be considered when comparing results with more rural provinces. In general, the report does not say much on how different communities and economies experience development, or which models of development are working.

Many of the indicators are for the basic services provided by municipal government (i.e. water, electricity, sanitation and refuse removal). The provincial level of analysis is therefore of limited use in tracking basic service delivery.

There is detailed information on development through the provision of socio-economic rights in the form of basic services, health and education. The report tries to measure the degree to which the state provides these services but it’s not always possible to separate this from private spending.

To some readers of the report, this distinction is important insofar as it can provide evidence of the state’s role in development. Other readers are more interested in the quality of the services provided and whether the households receiving these services are satisfied. There are some measures of the perceived quality of the services, but overall the focus is on the aggregate provision of the services.

In education there are a few interesting trends. There has been a sharp rise in the percentage of pupils that attend no-fee schools, from just 3% in 2006 to 57% in 2012. The proportions vary across the provinces, from Limpopo (89%) and the Eastern Cape (74%) to the Western Cape (27%) and Gauteng (32%).

There’s clearly a greater propensity for parents in Gauteng and the Western Cape to pay for private education, so you could argue that there’s a greater need for subsidised education in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. But what is the value of this free education?

The GHS has a table that compares the problems found in public schools (there are no figures for private schools) across the provinces. The results are not conclusive; some provinces score very badly in some measures and very well in others.

For example, Limpopo public schools have the highest percentage of learners without books (11%) followed by the Eastern Cape (8%), compared with a national average of 6.5%. On average, 5% of learners felt that classes were too big, but this rose to 7% in KwaZulu-Natal and 6,5% in the Western Cape, while only 2.5% of Limpopo learners thought that big classes were a problem.

A total of 30% of learners in the Eastern Cape have experienced corporal punishment in the last four years, but only 4.5% of learners in Gauteng and the Western Cape. The links between educational performance, development and corporal punishment remain unclear.

The repetition rates of grades 10, 11 and 12 are high, and are cause for concern. A total of 22% of all grade 10 learners repeat that academic year, but this rises to 37% in the North-West and 34.5% in Limpopo. A total of 33.5% of all grade 11 pupils in Limpopo (30% in North-West) repeat that year of study too.

When it comes to healthcare about 30% of households use private healthcare and 70% use public healthcare. This ratio has been consistent over the last eight years. While 79% of people using public healthcare reported being ‘very satisfied’ or ‘somewhat satisfied’ with the service they received, 97% of all private healthcare users declared themselves satisfied to a greater or lesser degree. And while only 2% of private healthcare users said they were ‘very unsatisfied’ or ‘somewhat unsatisfied’ with their experience, 13% of public healthcare users were similarly unhappy.

In terms of social grants the percentage of individuals receiving grants has risen steadily from 13% in 2002 to 30% in 2012. The percentage of households receiving grants has also risen during the period but has stabilised at 43% - 45% over the last five years. This could suggest that average household sizes are shrinking, or that the size of the average grant is shrinking in real terms.

Gauteng (27%) and the Western Cape (34%) have the smallest proportions of households that receive social grants. Limpopo (59%) and the Eastern Cape (58%) have the highest proportions.

An unexpected trend in housing is that the North-West has overtaken Gauteng and the Western Cape as the province with the highest proportion of informal housing. As much as 23% of all households in the North-West live in informal dwellings compared to 21% in Gauteng and 15% in the Western Cape. The sharp increase in the North-West is largely due to the mining boom in the province over the last decade.

The good news about the provision of free basic services is that service delivery backlogs were tackled aggressively over the past decade. Only 56% of households in the Eastern Cape had access to piped/tap water supply in 2002. By 2012 this figure had risen to 79%. However, the province also has had the largest percentage of households who have consistently complained about the quality (colour, taste and smell) of the water provided.

This last indicator might be a good example of the pitfalls of the bureaucratic process and the actions that flow from that process. Reducing the service delivery backlog has been a goal in and of itself, and in some cases this has meant that the maintenance of new (and old) infrastructure has taken a back seat.

The last indicator is also an example of the limitations of the numbers to provide context. The Eastern Cape has had the worst delivery record for water and sanitation services, but this has been largely due a historical lack of service delivery. It’s had to catch up and correct for the underdevelopment of the past, particularly in the former independent homelands.

In contrast, 99% of Western Cape households received adequate water services in 2012. Then again, the same 99% received adequate services in 2002. Remember that the ANC ran the province until 2009 and the DA has run it since. The levels of service delivery in the Western Cape might have had more to do with the economic and historical structures in the province and less to do with the government of the day.

Of course, such a notion may be heresy to some. The latest reports on development have been completed by a government department that is tasked (among other tasks) to report on the progress made by other divisions of government. To suggest that the success or the solution lies outside of government is to defeat the whole point of the exercise.

On Friday morning the minister of the department of performance monitoring and evaluation (DPME), Mr Collins Chabane in partnership with The Mail and Guardian Critical Thinking Forum will hold a discussion forum. He’ll be discussing the development indicators that his department launched earlier this month, the ones that will be used to track the success (or otherwise) of government policies and interventions.

His department has invited debate from the broader public. Next year the DPME will consolidate its findings and have a full review of the last 20 years of South Africa’s development. Hopefully the story of this development will be told by a wider group of narrators. DM

Read more:

  • General Household Survey 2012, StatsSA
  • Selected development indicators 2012, 99, StatsSA

Photo: Lutho Makhalima (R) reads a book to Nobantu Mbhokodi, an elderly woman, in Qunu, eastern cape, July 18, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

  • Paul Berkowitz
  • South Africa


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