After the Bell: Ramaphosa failed to reflect on nation’s regression following release of Census 2022
It didn’t take long for President Cyril Ramaphosa to trumpet the positive aspects of the latest census as a reflection of the ‘good work’ done by his government and the ANC.
President Ramaphosa’s address to the nation on Tuesday, following the release of Census 2022, was like watching a president gearing up for an election campaign, waving his government’s report card of progress (and regression) to earn the electorate’s trust once again.
“We have made tremendous progress since 1996,” said Ramaphosa, highlighting that more young people are in educational programmes, that access to formal housing (brick/concrete structures) has increased, and that there are more communities with access to electricity and water.
“This is a clear demonstration of development and charging ahead as a nation. We are modernising a number of life-determining aspects of the general wellbeing of the population,” said Ramaphosa.
It would be foolhardy to not acknowledge the progress made by the government post-apartheid.
Progress is evident in the census: the number of young people (between the ages of 5 and 24) attending educational institutions increased from 11.7 million in 1996 to 14.5 million in 2022; the number of households living in formal housing increased from 65.1% in 1996 to 88.5% in 2022; 82.4% of households (14.6 million out of 17.8 million) had access to piped water; households with electricity increased from 58.1% in 1996 to 94.7% in 2022.
(However, having access to water and electricity means little if nothing comes through the pipe and if a flick of a switch does not illuminate a house during Eskom rolling blackouts or unexplained power cuts.)
It would arguably be remiss to not reflect on the government’s moments of regression that Ramaphosa failed to mention during his address to the nation. After all, dear reader, you can walk and chew gum at the same time.
The problem with the census is that it makes it difficult to extrapolate whether the government is making a dent in high poverty and inequality levels.
This is because the latest census (unlike previous ones) does not include employment/unemployment data, or data pointing to income and expenditure trends of the population. So, this writer will have to rely on back-of-the-envelope calculations.
By several measures, most people in South Africa have become poorer and their quality of life has likely deteriorated.
South Africa has been getting poorer since as early as 2011, leading up to the 2022 census.
Economic growth has declined while population growth continued over this period. This is known as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, which measures the economy’s growth or decline against population growth.
According to the latest census, South Africa’s population has grown by 20% from 2011 to reach 62 million in 2022.
The country’s economy over the same period has declined by 8.5%, according to World Bank data.
Although GDP per capita is widely used and relied on as a benchmark for development, the limitation is that it doesn’t take into account the income growth levels of the population.
Nevertheless, the first prize would be for the economy to grow much faster than the population so that the government can fund and accommodate increasing societal needs.
This isn’t the case with South Africa, as its weak economy (and government) is not able to respond to the needs of its growing population.
Population growth, on the other hand, can be seen as a good thing as it can lead to a larger workforce and easier access to labour.
The problem with South Africa is that there is far too much labour available, and skills and education levels are poor and not geared for a 21st-century economy.
What Ramaphosa failed to mention in his address about access to education is that individuals who are 24 years and older are wasting away as most of them are not in educational institutions or have jobs.
This is worrying because South Africa is mostly a young population with an average age of 28. However, its youth pool is not economically active.
The census points to a substantial decline in this population attending an educational institution, reaching 23.1% in 1996 and dropping to 15.7% in 2022.
The 24-year-old and older cohort is the sweet spot for youth unemployment in South Africa. The economy is not growing fast enough to create entry points for young people in the labour market.
As Ramaphosa will soon campaign for a second term and mandate from the nation in the lead-up to the general elections next year, he will also have to carry a disappointing report card – a report card of a weak economy and wasted youth pool.
Happy investing. DM