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Go-slow on SA population growth

Staff Reporter

The world's population is set to hit the seven billion mark next week according to the UN -- but South Africa's population growth is slowing down.

South Africa’s population growth rate is slowing down, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini said on Wednesday.

“There is a decline in population growth in South Africa,” she said at the release of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 2011 “State of World Population” report in Cape Town.

Its release takes place as the world’s population is set to hit the seven billion mark next week; an increase of a billion people since 1999, and three billion since 1974.

Among the report’s findings is that sub-Saharan Africa is the one remaining region in the world where the population is set to double or treble over the next 40 years.

It pegs fertility rates in sub-Saharan Africa at 4.8—compared to an average fertility rate of about 1.7 births in developed countries, well below the replacement level of 2.1 births.

Citing a population expert, the report states: “If Africa’s fertility rates were to remain unchanged over the coming decades, the population of the continent would grow extremely rapidly, reaching three billion by 2050, and an incredible 15 billion by 2100.”

Africa’s population hit the one billion mark in 2009. Figures show the continent’s fertility rates are dropping, but still remain too high.

According to Statistics SA’s latest mid-year estimates, South Africa’s population is now just over 50 million.

Social development chief director for population and development, Jacques van Zuydam, said South Africa’s fertility rate was currently about 2.7 children per woman.

Fertility rates started declining in the 1980s, “but really the decline accelerated in the 1990s, as universal access to education… and health care… and family planning services… became a reality”.

A reasonable expectation was the country’s fertility rate would continue to decline.

“A rule of thumb is that once the fertility rate reaches 2.1, the population will stabilise. The rate at which we are moving towards that point is quite rapid,” Van Zuydam said.

“What contributes further towards accelerating the slow down in population growth rate is obviously the increasing deaths we’ve experienced, primarily as a result of the Aids epidemic and related illnesses over the past decade.”

Between 2009 and 2014, the country’s population was estimated to grow at 0.6%, “which is a significant slowdown from the growth of 2.1% that took place between 1996 and 2001”.

On Statistics SA’s finding that about one third of the country’s 50-million population were under the age of 15, Van Zuydam said this was unlikely to lead to a population boom.

“We do not anticipate that the large group of under-15-year-olds will lead to a second population explosion.”

According to a government population policy document handed out at the launch, South Africa’s population is expected to stabilise at 80 million people in 2100.—Sapa

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