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26 July 2011

E Cape: Population dynamics and the poverty trap

Kim Trollip
Press Release

The Eastern Cape is known for having mounted one of the largest resistances in Africa against colonialism, eventually succumbing to British rule in 1894, and again for its long history of resistance against apartheid rule.

But 15 years after apartheid, the Eastern Cape remains trapped in structural poverty that negatively affects the province’s health and socioeconomic profile. A new report, compiled by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the Africa Strategic Research Corporation on behalf of the provincial Department of Social Development, states that “poverty in the Eastern Cape is a national disaster”.

The report was discussed by a panel of experts at an HSRC seminar on 26 July.
The study provides a general description of the region’s basic demographic characteristics during the first half of 2010 and highlights issues relevant to the development and implementation of policies aimed at fighting poverty in the province. It is based on various Statistics SA data sets such as census data, labour force surveys, general household surveys and demographic and health surveys from 2001 until 2007.


In 2007, adults in the 15-64 age group comprised just over 57% of the total provincial population. Children aged 0-14 accounted for about 35% of the population; young people in the 19-24 age group for 21% of the population, and adults older than 65 for 7% of the population.

Sex and gender
The effects of migration, death and fertility on the province are reflected in the current sexual composition of the population. Women comprise 53% of the provincial population and out-number men in the province. The imbalance is the combined effect of patterns of migration, especially in active working ages, and sexual differences in mortality rates in the older ages.

The disproportionate economic burden on women and subtle forms of gender imbalances in other areas of economic, social and cultural experiences in the province remain issues of major concern. For instance, women in the province are predominantly found in low-paying insecure jobs, like private household services, while senior government and private positions are mostly occupied by men.

Marriage and childbearing
Fertility rates declining and this follows predictable differences in socioeconomic status. The prevalence of marriage among women in the reproductive ages of 15-49 has declined since 1996. In 2007, only 30.2% of all people aged 15 years or older were married.
There are sub-groups of the population with relatively high rates of childbearing, including those in the eastern part of the province (O.R.Tambo and Alfred Nzo districts), black Africans, rural women and those with no formal education. Teenage childbearing remains a significant feature in the province, and is more common among coloureds and Africans than among Indians and whites.

Family, household and relationships across age groups
The province has experienced a general decline in household size in the past decade. The average household size declined from 4.4 in 2002 to 3.8 in 2009. At the same time the number of households in the province increased from 1.4 million in 2002 to 1.7 million in 2009.

Historical policies and patterns of economic activities have had a negative impact on different aspects of family life in the province. In 2007, almost half of all households were female-headed and many children and young people in the province lived in single parent families. The economic burden of caring for older people is less on immediate and extended family relationships due to improved access to non-contributory old age and other forms of grants.

On the other hand, many older persons in multi-generational families are increasingly using their old age grants to support younger family members.

Health and mortality
The province lags behind other parts of the country in a number of critical and objective health indicators. Although the rates of infant mortality (65 per thousand in 1996 to an estimated level of 57 per thousand in 2010) and child mortality (88 per thousand in 1996 to a projected 86 per thousand in 2010) have declined, they remain among the highest in the country. Life expectancy rates have increased from 49.4 years in 2001-2006 to 54.8 years in 2006-2010, with these rates being slightly higher for women.

There have been significant improvements in the educational profile of the provincial population, especially in the areas of literacy and female school attendance. Nonetheless, the province still has major challenges in education, namely the matric pass rate, access to a good quality infrastructure for learning, and better models of human capital development. Poverty remains a challenge in attaining the well-intended and structured new policies and strategies to improving education in the province.

Migration patterns
Eastern Cape suffers more from people of a working age migrating to other provinces to search for better livelihoods. Within the Eastern Cape there is a significant movement of people from the poorer eastern part to the relatively more prosperous western part of the province.

Most migrants are young men in their active working years (between 25-39 years). As a result of migration, the Eastern Cape has a large proportion of females compared to more affluent provinces (such as Gauteng and the Western Cape), in line with the general trend in South Africa where poorer provinces have a higher proportion of women.
This trend has negatively affected the socio-economic development of the province. The resulting burden of heavy economic dependency contributes to the disorganization of families and the breakdown of the social fabrics of the provincial population.

The prevailing socioeconomic and population profile in the province is largely a product of complex demographic reaction to the crisis of poverty, especially among the historically disadvantaged population groups. In addition to the continued implementation of existing poverty-reduction policies and programmes, extraordinary measures by government and its partners are required in order to break the shackles of structural poverty and their consequences among the population of the province.

Examples of measures include:

    •    Concerted efforts to reduce infant and child mortality, chronic illnesses, and HIV and AIDS.
    •    Better support to families by encouraging cooperation across generations through media campaigns, intergenerational investment schemes and encouraging the middle generation to send regular remittances to ageing parents.
    •    Strengthening efforts to improve education and human capital development.
    •    Measures to retain skilled persons in the province and devise schemes to foster partnerships between institutions in the province and those situated outside.
It is recommended that the government provide better and more sustainable means to enable the population to break out of poverty. Areas that should be efficiently managed in order to achieve long-term environmental sustainability would include practical programmes of access to, and efficient use of land and other natural resources, rural development and rural industrialisation. Provision of basic social services and development of the infrastructure will encourage sustainable use of common natural resources in the province.

Note to editors: The full report is available here:

    •    The people matter: The state of the population in the Eastern Cape, by Monde Makiwane and O D Chimere Dan 

For further enquiries, contact Dr Monde Makiwane, chief research specialist, research programme on Human and Social Development, HumanSciences Research Council.
Phone: tel +27 (0)12 302 2239 or Mobile: 072 424 8603