Pali Lehohla
Pali Lehohla

JOHANNESBURG - The interplay between personal preferences, government policies and private sector interests find the best expression in human settlement. A place called home, consists of a house (brick and mortar and the land it occupies). 

This concrete jungle called houses represents a theatre of multiple intersections of human endeavour, it has rhythm and it breathes - that is why it is called home. It reflects how systems are created and how they, in turn, influence the state of the state - government, private citizens, business, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and accountability structures.

Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) captures this human activity and provides insights into how urban morphology takes root. Let us take you through this journey by making some suppositions about where you choose to live. We take a dive into building statistics to find out where the most spacious homes are being built, and what the average construction costs are.

If you are dreaming of one day buying a holiday home on the coast, and space is important to you, Durban might be the best option. On the other hand, if property costs are your main concern, Port Elizabeth or East London might be places to consider.

One thing to consider carefully is the type of living space you would enjoy during your vacations. Would you prefer the security of a townhouse near the beach, or the open property of a regular dwelling-house? Or are you happy to live in a high-rise flat with an open view of the ocean?

Building plans with the most generous floor area were approved by eThekwini (Durban), for houses, townhouses and flats.

Over a five-year period from 2012 to 2016, the average floor area for a dwelling-house in South Africa’s third-most populous city was 233m2.

How large is this exactly? Floor plans differ substantially from each other, but to get a rough idea, think of a house with four spacious bedrooms, two bathrooms and a double garage (plus a kitchen, etc).

Cape Town’s figure for houses might seem unusually small. A closer look at the data show that the city has approved building plans for large numbers of smaller-sized residential units (between 30m2 to 80m2) across the city, in particular in Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha.

Construction costs in eThekwini are also the most expensive, but only for houses and flats.

Tshwane takes the top spot for townhouses; it would cost you an average of R8575 a square metre to build a townhouse in the capital city, according to data for 2016.

Buffalo City, which includes the coastal city of East London, recorded the lowest costs for townhouses and flats.

Interestingly, flats have grown increasingly popular in South Africa’s cities over the last couple of years, even outstripping the construction of townhouses. For every 100 plans rubber-stamped for houses in 2013, 26 plans were approved for flats. In 2016, this ratio had risen to 59.

The demand for townhouses has also increased, but not as much. In 2013, the ratio of townhouse plans approved for every 100 houses was 25, climbing to 33 in 2016.

The increasing demand for flats has occurred in nearly all of the eight metros, but particularly in Tshwane, Cape Town and eThekwini. In terms of the capital, one only has to think of recent developments in areas such as Hatfield, Pretoria CBD and around the new Menlyn Maine complex.

Despite the rise in flats and townhouses, houses still dominate the residential landscape. According to the 2016 Community Survey, 64% of households in metro areas lived in formal houses, while 2.6% preferred in townhouses and 5.4% in flats.

The metros are home to 40% of South Africa’s population and many people are migrating to the cities in search of work.

The economic hub of Gauteng, which is home to three of the metros, is an especially attractive destination for those seeking employment.

Government policy on urban form favours densification yet people’s choices and vote on their feet for urban sprawl. Little wonder why the outcomes reflected in housing statistics show very low proportions of citizens in metros living in blocks of flats and townhouses.

At that too these sprawl. Whatever lies ahead, the changing residential market is bound to influence your future decisions on where you want to buy a property to live, work and - most importantly - play.

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Dr Pali Lehohla is Statistician-General of South Africa and head of Statistics South Africa