Census 2011: Meet the face of South Africa

Let's call her Thuli.

Thuli is the average South African – to the extent that such a thing exists – and, if anything, the 2011 census data from Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) shows just how diverse the country is. But if you are looking for the most likely South African, the one you would probably hit with a dart thrown at random into a crowd, it would be Thuli.

In some ways Thuli is a mystery; the numbers tell us about her circumstances but are limited in how much it can tell us about her hopes and ambitions. This we can say though: If the basic amenities (and a couple of small luxuries) are what she desires, then Thuli is fairly happy. But if she wants more out of life, say a career that could give her children a chance at higher education, then she's in for disappointment.

Thuli is a black woman, 25 years old, who speaks isiZulu. She lives in Gauteng, where she was also born, with two or three other people in a home, a formal dwelling, which they own without debt or bond.

Her home is a comfortable one. It has access to piped water (inside the yard, if not inside the home itself), and the toilet flushes into the sewage system. Her local authority removes the refuse at least once a week. Thuli's concerns do not include waste removal.

Nor does Thuli have to worry much about energy – as long as she can afford to pay for power. She and her family don't own a car and they use electricity for light, cooking and heat. They also use it to run their fridge, television and possibly their radio. They do not own a vacuum cleaner or a washing machine but they do have a DVD player.

For Thuli, communication is rudimentary, but at least mobile. She has a cellphone, or access to one, but her household has neither a computer nor a landline telephone. She doesn't get email, because she does not have access to the internet, nor does she get snail mail, because mail is not delivered to her home and she does not have a mailbox elsewhere.

In Thuli's home, nobody has died in the last year, and nobody is disabled.

Thuli has been to high school, a public one, but she never finished it and she most certainly does not have a tertiary education. She's economically active with some kind of income-generating work at least some of the time though she doesn't have a lot of cash to spare. If she, or another woman, is the head of the household, the combined income of her family of three or four is just over R5 600 per month. If she's living with a father or male partner, though, her household is bringing in a considerably more respectable R10 700 per month.

How long will Thuli live? How many children will she have and what are their chances for life, education, perhaps happiness? That we do not know yet. The fertility section of Census 2011 is still being evaluated and other data is simply not available on the same scale. However, trends since 1996 give us some idea and it is almost universally positive. Thuli's children should, all things being equal, be better educated, live longer and be wealthier than she will ever be.

Phillip De Wet
Guest Author
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