South Africa

Fact check: Despite City’s claims, data shows Cape Town is not SA’s fastest growing metro

By Jared Sacks 7 May 2014

On a number of occasions, the City of Cape Town has claimed that it has the highest population growth rate of any South African city. This is an important contention because it is used to explain away a range of governance issues from service delivery to housing to conflicts over land distribution. It is important, therefore, to verify whether this is actually true. By JARED SACKS.

Following the eviction by the Anti-Land Invasion Unit on land in Philippi East dubbed ‘Marikana’ by residents, the City obtained an interdict (now being challenged) preventing the rebuilding of ‘homes’ destroyed by the City. This was followed with a response to the interdict by Mayco for Human Settlements, Tandeka Gqada, justifying their actions as necessary since they attribute the housing challenge to the assertion that “The City of Cape Town has the highest urbanisation rate in the country”.

Once again, on 4 February this year, in a meeting between the City, the Provincial government and various community groups, Mayor Patricia de Lille claimed in a speech that “Cape Town is the fastest growing city in South Africa, with the population of the city having grown by 45% over the last 15 years.” She claimed vast improvements for service delivery in the City despite this rapid growth in population.

In other instances, politicians and officials from the City of Cape Town have also claimed that the City has an extremely high or even “massive” population growth when compared to other cities (presumably in other parts of Africa or the Global South). This often-repeated assertion by City officials is made without citing any relevant statistics.

A query on the matter to the City’s media department confirmed that the claims made by Cllr Gqada and Mayor de Lille are based on the census data from 1996 and 2011. They stood by their assertions that an urbanisation rate of 46% over 15 years made Cape Town the fastest growing metro in the country.

However, does the City of Cape Town actually have the highest urbanisation rate in South Africa? And how does this affect our understanding of the City’s record when it comes to service delivery?

What the data shows

Between the 2001 and 2011 census, Statistics South Africa reports that Cape Town was fourth in terms of population growth in absolute numbers. Here is a table showing the actual numbers from the 1996, 2001 and 2011 censuses as well as a graphic from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC):



Calculating the population growth rate between 2001 and 2011 for the largest municipalities actually puts Cape Town in 3rd place after Johannesburg and Tshwane. And if the one is to include an extra five years of growth between 1996 and 2001, Ekurhuleni then also outpaces Cape Town. See the comparative table below:


It is also important to note that a number of the smaller cities also have a higher population growth rate. Between 2001 and 2011, the City of Cape Town ranked 29th amongst all South African municipalities including the fast-growing mining town of Rustenburg, which has grown 41% during that ten-year period.

Neither is the Western Cape Province the fastest-growing in South Africa, as is often claimed by its provincial govenment – a City of Cape Town’s analysis of the 2011 Census has confirmed that Gauteng grew at a faster rate from 2001 until 2011. Furthermore, Cape Town’s urbanisation rate does not even approach that of other African cities such as Abuja, Ouagadougou and Kinshasa, and so it might be considered opportunistic to even reference population growth as a limiting factor in the city’s development.

How this affects other relevant statistics

Such data reveals a significant amount when it is compared with other important statistics. For instance, when one looks at the figures for unemployment in SA’s largest cities (page 218 of UN Habitat’s State of African Cities document), they range from 22% in Tshwane, 23% in Cape Town, 26.3% in Johannesburg, and 30% in eThekwini. However when the actual ratio of job growth to population growth is taken into account, the data shows that Cape Town is actually doing worse than any of the major metropolitan areas (see figure 1 from this Human Sciences Research Council report).

It is also relevant that Cape Town has seen the largest increase in informal dwellings – both in absolute numbers and in percentage change between the years 2001 and 2011. According to this HSRC research, “The biggest increase [in informal dwellings] was in Cape Town, where the number grew by more than 75,000 (an increase of 53%). In contrast, the number of households living in shacks in Johannesburg increased by only 37,500 (17%)”. And when one takes into account the lower urbanisation rate in Cape Town when compared to Johannesburg, the figures look even less impressive for the Mother City.

These are just a few examples of how a fairer look at the urbanisation rate for South Africa’s metropolitan areas disprove the claims of superior service delivery made by the City of Cape Town.

Further analysis

While it is true that most politicians and media departments seek to spin the truth, especially during election time, the City of Cape Town has been able to build the perception of progress where it may not actually exist. Their powerful media and branding machine often use such inaccurate or selective statistics to give the impression that Cape Town is somehow better run than other South African cities.

While it is true that Cape Town does generally provide better services than most other South African cities in key areas such as water, sewage and electricity, this may be only because historically, the city has always been privileged and has always provided better services – not necessarily because the service delivery has improved since the Democratic Alliance has been in power. In some areas, such as the goal of decreasing the number of people living in shacks, Cape Town is well behind cities such as Johannesburg – and getting worse.

Further comparative analysis needs to be done on these matters. Its clear, however, that there are no clear-cut differences between ANC- and DA-run municipalities. The truth is that there are more similarities in their approach to service delivery than differences.

At the same time, we should also be wary of how statistics can also be used to obscure the everyday lived experiences of the people being counted in various surveys and censuses. The truth is that one cannot quantify how people live through poverty, racism, and other forms of oppression. One also cannot quantify assertions of dignity and democracy by those who are continually ignored by governments all over the country.

To get a better picture of these more complex themes which South Africans experience every day, we need to listen to the voices of those who the state and the media mostly ignore and/or repress. These are the strikers, the protesters, and all others who refuse to be silenced. DM

Photo: A file picture dated 02 December 2009 shows a view of Table Mountain and the 2010 World Cup stadium Greenpoint Stadium in the foreground, Cape Town, South Africa.  EPA/JON HRUSA

Primary references for the tables:


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