Defend Truth


The migratory patterns of the South African human

Paul Berkowitz: studied economics, maths stats. Worked at Econometrix, FNB, Wits. Interested in South African politics, economics.

I have a friend from Eastern Cape who lives in Johannesburg. Actually, I have many friends and acquaintances from Eastern Cape living in Johannesburg and the greater Gauteng area. Up here on the Highveld we’re sort of okay with immigrants from other provinces. We save our antipathy for our neighbours north of the Limpopo.

My friend works in a management position at one of our big banks. She’s highly intelligent, modern and cosmopolitan. She fits into the fast, urban pace of Johannesburg. She could easily live out her days in one of our leafy suburbs, rising through the bank’s hierarchy, having Sunday brunch at Tasha’s with her girlfriends. However, she has different plans.

She shared these with me during the 2010 Sadtu strike. She had roped me into assisting the matrics at her church in Sophiatown during the strike, but that was just for a weekend refresher. The 2010 strike was more protracted, the pupils were more desperate and less hopeful. This time we were putting together a comprehensive revision programme for maths, science and English and going to the houses to teach.

We spent enough time travelling in her Mini to and from our charges to cover most of the conversation topics available, including the “Where do you see yourself in five years?”. Her answer surprised me somewhat.

“I’m going to cash out my share options from the bank, take my savings, move back to Eastern Cape and start a business. Probably a B&B guesthouse.”

Why would you do that, I wondered. Leave the mine dumps, the traffic jams, the walking Sandton adenoids? For what?  During the recent “educational refugees” war between Helen Zille and many other people, my friend’s words were echoed by another woman who calls Eastern Cape home. She claimed the people of Eastern Cape were natural pioneers who left home to seek their fortunes in the world, often returning to their roots. Refugees they were not.

The official stats support this story to an extent. In the most recent mid-year population estimates from StatsSA there are two tables that estimate interprovincial migration in South Africa for the 2001-2011 period, Tables 13 and 14.

Each row represents the province which is the source of the migration and each column the destination province. In Table 13, there was an estimated migration of 135,071 people from Eastern Cape to Western Cape between 2001 and 2006. There was also an out-migration from Eastern Cape to Gauteng of some 110,000 over the same period.

More people migrated from Eastern Cape during this time (around 380,000) than from any other province. Over the same period, however, some 47,000 people moved from Gauteng to Eastern Cape and another 39,000 moved from Western Cape to Eastern Cape – some 30% to 40% of the flows out of the province may have been people returning home.

In general there is a strong correlation between the ordinal ranking of a migration from province A to province B and the ranking of the flow from B to A. In plain English: if North West is one of the top three destinations for people from Limpopo then Limpopo will similarly be one of the top destinations for people from the North West.

Much of the migration story is intuitive. Western Cape and Gauteng were the only two provinces to experience a net inflow of internal migrants. Not many people want to move to Northern Cape (the bulk of “in-migrants” were from Gauteng and the Western Cape and most likely returning).

There are a couple of interesting trends visible when the 2001-2006 numbers are contrasted with the 2006-2011 ones. With the exception of in-migration into North West, all migration flows for the 2006-2011 period are down on the previous five years. The biggest flow of people in both periods isn’t from Eastern Cape to Western Cape – it’s from Limpopo to Gauteng.

These migration numbers are quite aggregated and stripped of socioeconomic or political context. A person who opts out of the Sandton rat race to open an art gallery in Parys is not the same kind of migrant as a family upping sticks from Idutywa and crossing the country to look for jobs.

The numbers are also without historical context. Until 1986 a series of laws restricted the natural movement of black South Africans. Even after 1986 a four-year state of emergency effectively boxed in most of the country. The cracks in the dam wall apartheid built only really widened after 1990 and it’s hard to say at first blush whether the migration numbers of the past decade are a wave or a trickle.

Coupled with the apartheid government’s restriction on movement were a few attempts to build economic nodes in the so-called “independent homelands”. Their success was mixed at best and in Eastern Cape in particular they were characterised by a few famous white elephants and a network of narrow patronage. When they were unravelled in the 1990s it was apparent the regional economy was not organically sustainable for the entire population, and so people left in search of job opportunities elsewhere. Their first choice was Western Cape, an area with which they had strong historical, familial and linguistic ties.

Back in the present, the failures of past and previous governments are literally made flesh by the very real human beings moving from their homes to greener pastures. The fencing-in-of-human-beings-as-economic-and-social-policy of the Nats has been succeeded by the comprehensive non-governance of Eastern Cape ANC administration. There may be a similar phenomenon at work in the former Venda and Lebowa homelands, although the “pull” factors of the Gauteng and Western Cape economies are just as important as the “push” factors in failed regions to explain why we move where we do.

It was right for Helen Zille to be taken to task for her comments. They were not racist, but they were politically expedient and inaccurate to the point of being disingenuous. There’s no “Children’s Army” of “educational refugees” trekking west, but adult economic migrants who take their children with them. Zille was highlighting a real problem that her provincial government faces – the need for more resources for a growing population – but she did it in the wrong way.

It’s relatively easy to skim the surface of the official stats to score cheap political points, but it’s not helpful. For example, any ANC sympathiser could claim Western Cape under the ANC was better than under the DA because migration into that province was higher during the ANC’s tenure than under the DA. Since we don’t have a finely-calibrated baseline for many population statistics we can’t use this factoid to prove or disprove anything.

Using the people of Eastern Cape as political footballs takes our gaze off the real problems. Firstly, the Eastern Cape government is a mess, and the education department is criminally negligent. Secondly, the department of rural development (and land reform) has failed in its mandate of developing and sustaining rural economic nodes, thereby adding to the push factors from rural areas.

And lastly, there is a need for an overhaul of the division of national revenue and an improvement in intergovernmental relations. The bottlenecks between national, provincial and local governments have led to failures in the delivery of education, housing, health and transport. Money lies unspent in many municipalities and provincial departments while constant migration to Gauteng and Western Cape lead to increasing service backlogs.

Zille and the DA are naturally frustrated at having to budget for the failures of other provinces. Insulting her would-be constituents to make a point is self-defeating. But it’s par for the course for both parties. If we were treated as grown-ups instead of political pawns, and if we were fed the facts instead of soundbites, we could be able and willing partners in improving public policy and outcomes. Instead we are treated as idiots and walking votes, and we react with outrage. DM


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.