OPINION: Profiling the provinces

South Africa's continuing urban exodus signals the policy priorities Cyril Ramaphosa's administration must tackle urgently and effectively.

More and better-paying jobs as well as opportunities for better education and other services emerge as key drivers in the migration of more than 1.4 million South Africans from poor- to better-performing provinces between 2011 and 2016.

The attraction of an urban middle class life is evident, with rural provinces losing the highest numbers of residents to the two provinces – Gauteng and the Western Cape – with the largest and most sophisticated urban centres.

But if the government fails to revise or reform policies that currently impede investment-led economic growth – and do more to improve the country's education offering – the hopes of the country's most aspiring and resourceful citizens will likely be dashed.

This emerges from the latest edition of Fast Facts from the Centre for Risk Analysis at the South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR).

Profiling the provinces – written by the IRR's head of research, Thuthukani Ndebele – offers a snapshot view of South Africa's nine provinces through the lens of key socio-economic indicators. A brief summary for each province covers data on demographics, the economy, education, health and social security, living conditions, politics and government, as well as crime and security.

Among the key patterns in the data is the continuing urbanisation of South Africans as they seek a better life.

The highest levels of migration have been registered in Gauteng (981 290 people between 2011 and 2016), the Western Cape (292 372), North West (97 784) and Mpumalanga (64 003).

The biggest losses were suffered by the Eastern Cape (an exodus of 326 171 between 2011 and 2016) and Limpopo (145 767).

The winning provinces boast better job prospects, higher levels of income, and better education opportunities.

Though Gauteng is the smallest of South Africa's nine provinces, covering only 1.5% of the country's land surface, it accounts for just over a third (34.1%) of the national economy, has the highest GDP per head (R80 945) and a labour absorption rate – working-age people with jobs – of 50.7%. The national average is 43.3%.

The Western Cape has the highest labour absorption rate (53.9%), and the highest annual income per capita – R77 546, slightly above Gauteng's R74 900.

In contrast, the labour absorption rate in the Eastern Cape is the lowest in the country (33.8%), and its annual income per capita is the second lowest, at R37 067.

Poverty, measured in terms of the Food Poverty Line – the rand value below which individuals are unable to purchase or consume enough food – is highest in the Eastern Cape, at 41.4%.

The Eastern Cape also has the biggest proportion of children who have lost both parents, the lowest number of households living in formal dwellings (69.8%) and the lowest number of households using electricity for heating (13.1%).

Limpopo, which lost the second highest number of outward-bound migrants, has a labour absorption rate of 37.8% and the lowest annual income per capita of R34 364.

In an economy that has experienced a sustained structural shift, with high-skills sectors becoming increasingly dominant, education is a critical factor in enabling people to meet their middle-class ambitions – and find jobs.

IRR research in November showed that young people with a university degree had a 75% chance of finding a job. With only a matric to their name, the percentage dropped to 50%, but plunged to an average of only 34% for those with a qualification less than matric.

Against this background, provincial education indicators are telling.

Although the Free State achieved the highest matric pass rate in 2016 (88.2%), its bachelor's pass rate was much lower, at 35.8%. But the top scorers in this critical measure – the capacity of young people to study at university and have the best shot at getting a job – are the Western Cape (with a bachelor's pass rate of 40.9%) and Gauteng (36.2%).

The national bachelor's pass rate in 2016 was a low 26.6%, but even that is higher than the dismal performances in the Eastern Cape (18.9%) and Limpopo (18.4%).

Gauteng also boasts the highest proportion of children up to age 4 attending an Early Childhood Development centre (48.1%); the highest proportion of literate adults (90.6%), and the highest proportion of adults with a degree or higher education qualification (8.0%).

City life is not all rosy – the Western Cape has the highest murder rate in the country (53 per 100 000 people in 2016/17), and Gauteng the highest motor vehicle theft rate of 205 per 100 000.

But these provinces remain beacons on the road away from poverty and economic distress – individual poverty (measured by the Food Poverty Line, or rand value below which individuals are unable to purchase or consume enough food) is lowest in Gauteng (9.2%) and the Western Cape (10%). No other province achieves a level below 20%.

- Michael Morris is head of media at the IRR, a liberal think tank that promotes political and economic freedom

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