The racially weaponised issue of population growth
Opinion / 10 August 2019, 08:45am / William Saunderson-Meyer - Jaundiced Eye
Few would quibble with the assertion that joblessness is South Africa’s gravest problem. Every social ill that plagues the country thrives in unemployment. Worse, if worklessness continues unchecked, it promises a ruinous future eruption.
The grim numbers are familiar to anyone with even a cursory interest in what’s happening around them. Depending on the statistical models, between a third and 40% of people can’t find work. In the under-35 category, the volatile youth that fuels the red-beret militants, that figure is almost 6 out of 10.
Not a single ANC intervention has been particularly successful. Many have aggravated the problem. Schools and universities are churning out young people who clutch a pretty piece of parchment and have high expectations, but are essentially unemployable.
Part of the problem is that the ANC is unwilling or unable to deal with the supply side of the unemployment equation. It has allowed, even encouraged, explosive population growth, instead of vigorously encouraging birth control.
According to figures just released, South Africa’s population increased by more than a million in the past year, to reach 58.78million in mid-2019. That’s 20million higher than the country’s 38.6million population in 1994 - more than 50% more people. And, most daunting in terms of employment creation, almost 3 out of 10 (28.8%) of us are under 15 years and are yet to hit working age.
Obviously, some of this is the result of illegal immigration. Officially, the number of foreign-borns in SA, according to the 2011 census, is 2.2million; but in 2017 the UN estimated it to be 4million.
Fuelling the growth curve are improving infant mortality rates and an uptick in life expectancy. But the biggest issue is South Africa’s comparatively high birth rate.
SA’s fertility rate is 2.4% - 2.1% is population replacement level - and respectable compared to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, where it approaches 5%. That nevertheless means a huge job-creation challenge, given that GDP growth has been trending downwards for years and, in the first quarter of 2019, the economy actually shrank by 3.2%.
As always in SA, the devil is in the demographic detail. According to the most recent government estimates I could find (1998), population growth is 1.5% for whites, 2.2% for Indians, 2.3 for coloureds and 4.3% for black Africans. It is in those racial breakdowns that the government’s quandary lies. In a country where the radicals have weaponised human reproduction - Julius Malema has for years periodically called upon black women to have more babies “for the revolution” - population control programmes are just not going to happen.
To make matters worse, a long-cherished assumption of demographers, that rising prosperity and education levels cause women to have fewer children, is being shattered in Africa. A landmark University of Bath 58-country study predicts that contrary to trends elsewhere in the world, in Africa greater economic development could cause population growth to accelerate, not slow. The study, published in PLOS ONE last month, found that in sub-Saharan Africa women of all education levels have just over five children, yet wanted more - 5.9. On average, sub-Saharan Africa women with a tertiary education have 2.7 children, yet again, would like to have more - 3.7.
There are no countries in Africa where woman want fewer than 2.5 children and, in most countries, women want more than four.
The UN previously estimated that the sub-Saharan Africa population was set to double by 2050, adding one billion people to the world’s population. That is now likely to be considerably higher, with obviously catastrophic implications.
While all attempts to create jobs must be welcomed, it’s a futile undertaking unless the other end of the equation is addressed.
The SA government needs to do everything it can to both grow the economy and slow population growth, even though the latter is likely (though it should not) to be a racially flammable issue.