SA’s metros: Stars and stragglers

The inequality gap in Cape Town is a cause for concern, with the latest State of South African Cities report revealing it is the only city in the country where the number of people living in informal areas has increased over the past five years. 

The report notes that the city’s population grew substantially. The report was produced by the South African Cities Network, which focuses on research and knowledge sharing amongst its partners. Its main partners are Salga, Cogta and eight of the metros — Cape Town was a member until it opted out this year. 

This year’s report shows the hits and misses of the country’s cities and the huge efforts that are still required to transform apartheid-era spatial planning into democratic urban spaces. 

Edgar Pieterse, professor at the University of Cape Town and the founding director of the African Centre for Cities, said cities will not transform if the state does not develop housing that is affordable for people in various income groups. 

Deputy Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Andries Nel said there is an overall improvement in service delivery, but transforming apartheid spatial geography remains problematic.

The State of South African Cities report is published every five years and looks at the progress made in transforming the nine major metros: Johannesburg, Buffalo City, Msunduzi (Pietermaritzburg area), Tshwane, Cape Town, Ekurhuleni, Mangaung, eThekwini and Nelson Mandela Bay. 

Buffalo City With a population of about 750 000, Buffalo City is the second-smallest metro in the country. Although its economy shows steady growth, unemployment levels are high. 

In 2001, 53.8% of the population was unemployed. This fell to 34.8% by 2011 — which is below the provincial unemployment rate of 37.4%. 

About 30% of people live below the poverty line, with the cost of living in this metro estimated at R110 a day in 2014.

Buffalo City also has the lowest matriculation level of all the metros, with only 16.9% of its population having passed matric in 2011. Only 63.4% of households in the city had access to piped water in 2013. 

Between 2006 and 2011, voter turnout at local elections increased by only 5%.

City of Cape Town Between 2001 and 2011, Cape Town’s population grew from 2.8‑million to 3.7‑million. It ranks second in the provision of basic services, but is the only metro where the number of people living in informal areas has increased.The city’s economy continues to grow, but it is becoming increasingly unaffordable for many to live in the city. 

Although average household income has doubled, the cost of living has also increased significantly — from R93 a day in 2011 to R110 in 2014 — and unemployment is rife. 

The number of people living below the poverty line has dropped from 28% in 2001 to 19% in 2011. But the inequality gap remains substantial, as the metro’s Gini coefficient stood at 0.6 in 2013 (with 1 being the most unequal and 0 being the most equal).

Ekurhuleni Ekurhuleni has a population of 3.2‑million people and, after Johannesburg, has the lowest average number of people per household. The area is rated number two in terms of access to sanitation.

The number of people living below the poverty line increased by 10% in the period under review. Although unemployment levels have improved significantly — dropping from 40.4% in 2001 to 28.8% in 2011 — they still remain above the provincial unemployment average of 21.6%. 

The population grew by 696 708 people between 2001 and 2011. The cost of living in Ekurhuleni is similar to that of other metros, at R110 a day, but household income in the area grew at a slower rate. 

Much like other Gauteng metros, the voter turnout at local government elections is lower than that of national elections.

eThekwini eThekwini has the second-highest average number of people per household and a similar population size to Cape Town. Between 2001 and 2011, its household income almost doubled — from R56 000 to R112 000 a year. The population increased by 352 239 in the same period.

The municipality — whose average unemployment rate was the highest of the five largest metros in 2011 — has seen the largest drop in unemployment levels, from 43% in 2001 to 30.2%. There was a 10% decrease in the number of people living in poverty, but inequality levels remain high. The cost of living in eThekwini is R110 a day — similar to that of other large metros.

Johannesburg The population of Johannesburg increased significantly between 2001 and 2011, from 3.2‑million to 4.4‑million. The city is being forced to provide housing infrastructure at an accelerated rate. 

Johannesburg’s economy is growing rapidly, with annual household income doubling from R90 000 in 2001 to R180 000 in 2011. It is the country’s leading city in providing basic services. Although unemployment has decreased, it remains problematic. The cost of living is R107 a day. 

Mangaung Mangaung may be similar in geographical size to Tshwane but, with a population of 747 000, it has the second-smallest population of all the cities under review. It also has the lowest life expectancy, which may be a reflection on its largely rural demographic. 

Between 2001 and 2011, Mangaung’s economic growth was the second-slowest of all the cities, with household income going from R43 000 to R105 000. A total of 96% of households have access to sanitation services and 88% have access to piped water.

Msunduzi Msunduzi has the highest average number of people per household and the highest percentage of traditional dwellings. The area also has the highest poverty levels and a significant inequality gap. 

The population of 618 000 has the least access to refuse services, which ties in with the city’s high prevalence of informal and traditional housing. Unemployment levels are extremely high and the cost of living has increased significantly. 

But the local economy is growing, with household income surpassing the national average.  Between 2006 and 2011, Msunduzi had the highest increase in voter turnout at local elections of all the cities under review.

Nelson Mandela Bay Nelson Mandela Bay has a population of 1.2‑million and the lowest proportion of informal residences. Household income and the cost of living are similar to eThekwini’s — but its economy is much smaller. 

Between 2001 and 2011, the economy and average household incomes experienced slower growth than any of the other metros. Its population growth in the same period was 146 337. Together with Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay had the highest voter turnout — 65% — in the 2011 local elections.

Tshwane As a result of demarcation changes, Tshwane’s geographical area has tripled since 2011 and now includes large rural areas. 

Tshwane has the highest per capita income of all the cities. Although the city has made progress in reducing poverty and improving livelihoods, inequality remains high. 

In 2013, 88.7% of households had access to water, 98.1% to sanitation and 83.2% to refuse removal. 

The economy is growing rapidly and unemployment is below the provincial average, but living in the city is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

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Pontsho Pilane
Pontsho Pilane is an award-winning journalist interested in health, gender, race and how they intersect. She holds three degrees in media studies and journalism from Wits University

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