South Africa - Demographics


Historical population
Year Pop. ±%
1900 5,014,000
1910 5,842,000 +16.5%
1920 6,953,000 +19.0%
1930 8,580,000 +23.4%
1940 10,341,000 +20.5%
1950 13,310,000 +28.7%
1960 16,385,000 +23.1%
1970 21,794,000 +33.0%
1980 24,261,000 +11.3%
1990 37,944,000 +56.4%
2000 43,686,000 +15.1%
2010 49,991,300 +14.4%
2011 51,770,560 +3.6%
Map of population density in South Africa
<1 /km2 1–3 /km2 3–10 /km2 10–30 /km2 30–100 /km2 100–300 /km2 300–1000 /km2 1000–3000 /km2 >3000 /km2

South Africa is a nation of about 50 million people of diverse origins, cultures, languages, and religions. The last census was held in 2011. Even though the population of South Africa has increased in the past decade, the country had an annual population growth rate of −0.412% in 2012 (CIA est.), where the birth rate is higher than the death rate but there is a net emigration rate. South Africa is home to an estimated 5 million illegal immigrants, including some 3 million Zimbabweans. A series of anti-immigrant riots occurred in South Africa beginning on 11 May 2008.

Statistics South Africa provided five racial categories by which people could classify themselves, the last of which, "unspecified/other" drew negligible responses, and these results were omitted. The 2010 midyear estimated figures for the other categories were Black African at 79.4%, White at 9.2%, Coloured at 8.8%, and Indian or Asian at 2.6%. The first census in South Africa in 1911 showed that whites made up 22% of the population; it declined to 16% in 1980.

By far the major part of the population classified itself as African or black, but it is not culturally or linguistically homogeneous. Major ethnic groups include the Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho (South Sotho), Bapedi (North Sotho), Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Swazi and Ndebele, all of which speak Bantu languages.

The Coloured population is mainly concentrated in the Cape region, and come from a combination of ethnic backgrounds including White, Khoi, San, Griqua, Chinese and Malay.

White South Africans are descendants of Dutch, German, French Huguenots, English and other European and Jewish settlers. Culturally and linguistically, they are divided into the Afrikaners, who speak Afrikaans, and English-speaking groups. The white population has been on the decrease due to a low birth rate and emigration; as a factor in their decision to emigrate, many cite the high crime rate and the affirmative action policies of the government. Since 1994, approximately 440,000 white South Africans have permanently emigrated. Despite high emigration levels, a few immigrants from Europe have settled in the country. By 2005, an estimated 212,000 British citizens were residing in South Africa. By 2011, this number may have grown to 500,000. Some white Zimbabwean emigrated to South Africa. Some of the more nostalgic members of the community are known in popular culture as "Whenwes", because of their nostalgia for their lives in Rhodesia "when we were in Rhodesia".

The Indian population came to South Africa as indentured labourers to work in the sugar plantations in Natal in the late 19th and early 20th century. They came from different parts of the Indian subcontinent, adhered to different religions and spoke different languages. Serious riots in Durban between Indians and Zulus erupted in 1949. There is also a significant group of Chinese South Africans (approximately 100,000 individuals) and Vietnamese South Africans (approximately 50,000 individuals). In 2008, the Pretoria High Court has ruled that Chinese South Africans who arrived before 1994 are to be reclassified as Coloureds. As a result of this ruling, about 12,000–15,000 ethnically Chinese citizens who arrived before 1994, numbering 3%–5% of the total Chinese population in the country, will be able to benefit from government BEE policies.

South Africa hosts a sizeable refugee and asylum seeker population. According to the World Refugee Survey 2008, published by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, this population numbered approximately 144,700 in 2007. Groups of refugees and asylum seekers numbering over 10,000 included people from Zimbabwe (48,400), The Democratic Republic of the Congo (24,800), and Somalia (12,900). These populations mainly lived in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town, and Port Elizabeth. Many refugees have now also started to work and live in rural areas in provinces such as Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

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