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South Africa Demographics Profile

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Population56,978,635 (July 2021 est.)

note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected
Nationalitynoun: South African(s)

adjective: South African
Ethnic groupsBlack African 80.9%, Colored 8.8%, White 7.8%, Indian/Asian 2.5% (2018 est.)

note: colored is a term used in South Africa, including on the national census, for persons of mixed race ancestry who developed a distinct cultural identity over several hundred years
LanguagesisiZulu (official) 25.3%, isiXhosa (official) 14.8%, Afrikaans (official) 12.2%, Sepedi (official) 10.1%, Setswana (official) 9.1%, English (official) 8.1%, Sesotho (official) 7.9%, Xitsonga (official) 3.6%, siSwati (official) 2.8%, Tshivenda (official) 2.5%, isiNdebele (official) 1.6%, other (includes Khoi, Nama, and San languages) 2%; note - data represent language spoken most often at home (2018 est.)

major-language sample(s):
Die Wereld Feite Boek, n’ onontbeerlike bron vir basiese informasie. (Afrikaans)

The World Factbook, the indispensable source for basic information. (English)
ReligionsChristian 86%, ancestral, tribal, animist, or other traditional African religions 5.4%, Muslim 1.9%, other 1.5%, nothing in particular 5.2% (2015 est.)
Age structure0-14 years: 27.94% (male 7,894,742/female 7,883,266)

15-24 years: 16.8% (male 4,680,587/female 4,804,337)

25-54 years: 42.37% (male 12,099,441/female 11,825,193)

55-64 years: 6.8% (male 1,782,902/female 2,056,988)

65 years and over: 6.09% (male 1,443,956/female 1,992,205) (2020 est.)
Dependency ratiostotal dependency ratio: 52.2

youth dependency ratio: 43.8

elderly dependency ratio: 8.4

potential support ratio: 11.9 (2020 est.)
Median agetotal: 28 years

male: 27.9 years

female: 28.1 years (2020 est.)
Population growth rate0.95% (2021 est.)
Birth rate18.89 births/1,000 population (2021 est.)
Death rate9.27 deaths/1,000 population (2021 est.)
Net migration rate-0.12 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)
Population distributionthe population concentrated along the southern and southeastern coast, and inland around Pretoria; the eastern half of the country is more densly populated than the west as shown in this population distribution map
Urbanizationurban population: 67.8% of total population (2021)

rate of urbanization: 1.72% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)
Major cities - population9.897 million Johannesburg (includes Ekurhuleni), 4.710 million Cape Town (legislative capital), 3.176 million Durban, 2.655 million PRETORIA (administrative capital), 1.267 million Port Elizabeth, 909,000 West Rand (2021)
Sex ratioat birth: 1.02 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1 male(s)/female

15-24 years: 0.97 male(s)/female

25-54 years: 1.02 male(s)/female

55-64 years: 0.87 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.72 male(s)/female

total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2020 est.)
Maternal mortality rate119 deaths/100,000 live births (2017 est.)
Infant mortality ratetotal: 26.82 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 29.9 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 23.68 deaths/1,000 live births (2021 est.)
Life expectancy at birthtotal population: 65.04 years

male: 63.68 years

female: 66.42 years (2021 est.)
Total fertility rate2.2 children born/woman (2021 est.)
Contraceptive prevalence rate54.6% (2016)
Drinking water sourceimproved: urban: 98.9% of population

rural: 87.4% of population

total: 95.5% of population

unimproved: urban: 1.1% of population

rural: 12.6% of population

total: 4.5% of population (2017 est.)
Health expenditures8.3% (2018)
Physicians density0.91 physicians/1,000 population (2017)
Hospital bed density2.3 beds/1,000 population (2010)
Sanitation facility accessimproved: urban: 95.6% of population

rural: 80.9% of population

total: 90.6% of population

unimproved: urban: 4.4% of population

rural: 19.1% of population

total: 9.4% of population (2017 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate19.1% (2020 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS7.8 million (2020 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths83,000 (2020 est.)
Major infectious diseasesdegree of risk: intermediate (2020)

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever

water contact diseases: schistosomiasis

note: widespread ongoing transmission of a respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is occurring throughout South Africa; as of 6 June 2021, South Africa has reported a total of 2,302,304 cases of COVID-19 or 3,881.9 cumulative cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 population with 113.1 cumulative deaths per 100,000 population; as of 19 July 2021, 7.38% of the population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine
Obesity - adult prevalence rate28.3% (2016)
Children under the age of 5 years underweight5.5% (2017)
Education expenditures6.5% of GDP (2019)
Demographic profile

South Africa’s youthful population is gradually aging, as the country’s total fertility rate (TFR) has declined dramatically from about 6 children per woman in the 1960s to roughly 2.2 in 2014. This pattern is similar to fertility trends in South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, and sets South Africa apart from the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, where the average TFR remains higher than other regions of the world. Today, South Africa’s decreasing number of reproductive age women is having fewer children, as women increase their educational attainment, workforce participation, and use of family planning methods; delay marriage; and opt for smaller families.

As the proportion of working-age South Africans has grown relative to children and the elderly, South Africa has been unable to achieve a demographic dividend because persistent high unemployment and the prevalence of HIV/AIDs have created a larger-than-normal dependent population. HIV/AIDS was also responsible for South Africa’s average life expectancy plunging to less than 43 years in 2008; it has rebounded to 63 years as of 2017. HIV/AIDS continues to be a serious public health threat, although awareness-raising campaigns and the wider availability of anti-retroviral drugs is stabilizing the number of new cases, enabling infected individuals to live longer, healthier lives, and reducing mother-child transmissions.

Migration to South Africa began in the second half of the 17th century when traders from the Dutch East India Company settled in the Cape and started using slaves from South and southeast Asia (mainly from India but also from present-day Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia) and southeast Africa (Madagascar and Mozambique) as farm laborers and, to a lesser extent, as domestic servants. The Indian subcontinent remained the Cape Colony’s main source of slaves in the early 18th century, while slaves were increasingly obtained from southeast Africa in the latter part of the 18th century and into the 19th century under British rule.

After slavery was completely abolished in the British Empire in 1838, South Africa’s colonists turned to temporary African migrants and indentured labor through agreements with India and later China, countries that were anxious to export workers to alleviate domestic poverty and overpopulation. Of the more than 150,000 indentured Indian laborers hired to work in Natal’s sugar plantations between 1860 and 1911, most exercised the right as British subjects to remain permanently (a small number of Indian immigrants came freely as merchants). Because of growing resentment toward Indian workers, the 63,000 indentured Chinese workers who mined gold in Transvaal between 1904 and 1911 were under more restrictive contracts and generally were forced to return to their homeland.

In the late 19th century and nearly the entire 20th century, South Africa’s then British colonies’ and Dutch states’ enforced selective immigration policies that welcomed "assimilable" white Europeans as permanent residents but excluded or restricted other immigrants. Following the Union of South Africa’s passage of a law in 1913 prohibiting Asian and other non-white immigrants and its elimination of the indenture system in 1917, temporary African contract laborers from neighboring countries became the dominant source of labor in the burgeoning mining industries. Others worked in agriculture and smaller numbers in manufacturing, domestic service, transportation, and construction. Throughout the 20th century, at least 40% of South Africa’s miners were foreigners; the numbers peaked at over 80% in the late 1960s. Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, and Eswatini were the primary sources of miners, and Malawi and Zimbabwe were periodic suppliers.

Under apartheid, a "two gates" migration policy focused on policing and deporting illegal migrants rather than on managing migration to meet South Africa’s development needs. The exclusionary 1991 Aliens Control Act limited labor recruitment to the highly skilled as defined by the ruling white minority, while bilateral labor agreements provided exemptions that enabled the influential mining industry and, to a lesser extent, commercial farms, to hire temporary, low-paid workers from neighboring states. Illegal African migrants were often tacitly allowed to work for low pay in other sectors but were always under threat of deportation.

The abolishment of apartheid in 1994 led to the development of a new inclusive national identity and the strengthening of the country’s restrictive immigration policy. Despite South Africa’s protectionist approach to immigration, the downsizing and closing of mines, and rising unemployment, migrants from across the continent believed that the country held work opportunities. Fewer African labor migrants were issued temporary work permits and, instead, increasingly entered South Africa with visitors’ permits or came illegally, which drove growth in cross-border trade and the informal job market. A new wave of Asian immigrants has also arrived over the last two decades, many operating small retail businesses.

In the post-apartheid period, increasing numbers of highly skilled white workers emigrated, citing dissatisfaction with the political situation, crime, poor services, and a reduced quality of life. The 2002 Immigration Act and later amendments were intended to facilitate the temporary migration of skilled foreign labor to fill labor shortages, but instead the legislation continues to create regulatory obstacles. Although the education system has improved and brain drain has slowed in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, South Africa continues to face skills shortages in several key sectors, such as health care and technology.

South Africa’s stability and economic growth has acted as a magnet for refugees and asylum seekers from nearby countries, despite the prevalence of discrimination and xenophobic violence. Refugees have included an estimated 350,000 Mozambicans during its 1980s civil war and, more recently, several thousand Somalis, Congolese, and Ethiopians. Nearly all of the tens of thousands of Zimbabweans who have applied for asylum in South Africa have been categorized as economic migrants and denied refuge.

Literacydefinition: age 15 and over can read and write

total population: 87%

male: 87.7%

female: 86.5% (2017)
School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)total: 14 years

male: 13 years

female: 14 years (2018)

Source: CIA World Factbook
This page was last updated on September 18, 2021

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