DA leader Helen Zille
DA leader Helen Zille
Marius Fransman
Marius Fransman

Helen Zille is right to dispute claims by ANC leaders and others that opposition-run Cape Town is “more unequal” than other South African cities. It is one of the most unequal cities in the world, but other South African cities are more unequal still, UN figures show.

At the DA federal congress last weekend, party leader Zille dismissed accusations by ANC officials and others that the gap between rich and poor is greater in DA-run Cape Town than in other South African cities.

While few dispute the claim that South African cities, as a whole, lead the world in inequality, Zille dismissed as misplaced remarks such as ANC Western Cape leader Marius Fransman’s, a few months ago.

In a speech to youth leaders on June 16, at the youth training centre in Mitchell’s Plain, Fransman asked: “How does Zille claim to be best premier when the Western Cape has the most service delivery protest? Cape Town is the most unequal city in the world.”

Zille said in response at her party congress: “There is a myth that Cape Town is more unequal than other South African cities. This not true,” she said.

So who is right?


Last year, the United Nations’s agency for human settlement, UN-Habitat, released its State of the World’s Cities 2010/2011 report. Subtitled “Cities for All: Bridging the Urban Divide” the report examined income inequality in cities around the world and reported that South Africa has the highest levels of 109 countries, with all regions studied.

The report declared: “Three South African cities top the list of the most unequal cities in the world, when measured on income-based data gathered in a UN-Habitat survey of cities in 109 countries from all regions” and names them as “Buffalo City (East London), Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni (East Rand)”. Cape Town, according to the report, is the least unequal city in the country.

All South African cities show a high level of inequality.

The measure the UN-Habitat uses is the Gini coefficient, a measure of the inequality of income. A Gini coefficient of 0 means total income equality – where everyone has the same income.

A Gini coefficient of 1 means maximum inequality. One person has it all. A rating of 0.4 is considered the international alert line for high inequality.

In South Africa, Johannesburg and East London have an 0.75 rating, the East Rand and Bloemfontein 0.74, Pietermaritzburg 0.73, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Durban carry a 0.72 rating, while Cape Town has a rating of 0.67.

This clearly shows high levels of inequality in Cape Town, but still makes it lower than other cities in the country.

A more recent UN-Habitat report, released in September this year, examines the state of different world cities, assessing a wider range of factors than simply income.

Here again, the story is the same. The State of the World’s Cities 2012/2013 – Prosperity of Cities report does look at income inequality, and using the Gini coefficient measure it finds that Johannesburg is still more unequal than Cape Town, with little change from the 2011 figures.

It also lists Cape Town as a more broadly prosperous city than Johannesburg, the only other South African city examined.

It does this by developing a new gauge it calls the City Prosperity Index which measures five factors: productivity, quality of life, infrastructure, environment and equity.

Infrastructure and quality of life includes aspects such as adequate water, sanitation, power supply, transportation, road network, communications technology, as well as the provision of social services, recreation facilities, health, education and safety and security.

Like the Gini coefficient, the City Prosperity Index rates cities on a scale of 0 to 1, but in its case, the higher the reading the better; the broader the prosperity.

And on the overall index, Cape Town scored 0.590, above Johannesburg with 0.479.


Both cities score low on the equity index (Johannesburg at 0.083 and Cape Town at 0.217). Cape Town does well on the infrastructure index at 0.933, compared to Johannesburg with 0.880. Both cities scored 0.645 on the quality of life index.

As shown by these UN-produced studies, the claims that Cape Town is the world’s most unequal city are wrong.

Inequality remains high in all South African cities, though it has not worsened in recent years, as the DA and others recently claimed.

But the UN study in 2010/2011 shows that South Africa and the world’s three most unequal cities, measured on income alone, are Johannesburg, East London and East Rand, with Cape Town having the lowest ranking.

Furthermore, a more recent 2012 study that looked at just two cities in South Africa, among a range of other cities around the world, and examined a broader range of factors than simply income distribution, showed this broader measure of prosperity was higher in Cape Town than Johannesburg.

On the UN figures, however, Zille is right.

* This article first appeared on Africa Check (http://www.africacheck.org), a non-profit organisation which promotes accuracy in public debate, testing claims made by public figures around the continent. Africa Check invited the ANC to comment on this data but had received no response at the time of publishing.

* Wilhelm is researcher at Africa Check.