South Africa : Society


Population density (per sq. km): 


Life expectancy: 
57 Years
Primary enrolment: 

55,910,000; 64 per cent of people live in urban areas and 34 per cent in urban agglomerations of more than one million people; growth 1.6 per cent p.a. 1990–2013; birth rate 21 per 1,000 people (38 in 1970); life expectancy 57 years (53 in 1970 and 61 in 1990).

People of African origin constitute 79.0 per cent of the population (2001 census), European origin 9.6 per cent, mixed descent 8.9 per cent (‘coloureds’) and Asian origin 2.5 per cent. The African linguistic groups comprise Zulu (23.8 per cent of the total population), Xhosa (17.6 per cent), Pedi (9.4 per cent), Tswana (8.2 per cent), Sotho (7.9 per cent), Tsonga (4.4 per cent), Swati (2.7 per cent), Venda (2.3 per cent) and several smaller groups. The ‘coloureds’ include descendants of slaves brought from Malaya, Indonesia and Madagascar, and the Khoi-Khoi people of the Cape. There is also a substantial flow of inward migration of people seeking employment, most from neighbouring countries such as Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.


Official languages are Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Sesotho sa Leboa (Northern Sotho), Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.


Christians 80 per cent (2001 census), with a wide range of denominations; and minorities of Muslims, Hindus and Jews. Traditional and Christian forms of worship are often blended.


Public spending on health was five per cent of GDP in 2016. Durban Academic Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, four new hospitals in Northern Province and many new health centres were built in the late 1990s. Some 95 per cent of the population uses an improved drinking water source and 74 per cent have access to adequate sanitation facilities (2012). Infant mortality was 33 per 1,000 live births in 2013 (89 in 1960).

AIDS is a severe problem. In 2013, 19.1 per cent of people aged 15–49 were HIV positive. For many years the government appeared unable to accept the severity of the looming problem and failed to take measures to contain it. By 2000, when it became involved in controversy over its claim that AIDS was not caused by HIV, there were – by some international estimates – more HIV-positive cases in South Africa than any other country. By April 2002, however, the government had committed itself to lead the battle against HIV/AIDS, making antiretroviral drugs available through the health service.


Public spending on education was 6.6 per cent of GDP in 2014. There are nine years of compulsory education starting at the age of seven. Primary school comprises seven years and secondary five, with cycles of two and three years. The school year starts in January.

In January 2012 the Council on Higher Education recognised 23 public universities, including two concentrating on distance education and six universities of technology. It had also registered 88 private higher education institutions and a further 27 were provisionally registered. There are some 892,940 students in public higher education institutions, some 138,610 of whom are postgraduate students (2010). Literacy among people aged 15–24 is 98 per cent (2007).

South Africa hosted the 16th Commonwealth Conference of Education Ministers in Cape Town in December 2006. Commonwealth Education Ministers meet every three years to discuss issues of mutual concern and interest.


Among the many dailies in English are Business Day, Cape Argus, Cape Times, The Citizen and The Star. Leading Afrikaans- language dailies are Beeld (Johannesburg) and Die Burger (Cape Town). The most influential national weeklies are Financial Mail, Mail & Guardian, The Sunday Independent and Sunday Times.

State-owned South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) provides a comprehensive range of national and regional radio stations covering 11 languages and an external service for a pan- African audience, Channel Africa. There are very many private radio stations. SABC also operates three national TV networks and two pay-TV services. Many private TV channels are available nationally; and private TV network M-Net targets a pan-African audience.

Some 75 per cent of households have TV sets (20123). There are 83 personal computers per 1,000 people (2006).


Country code 27; internet domain ‘.za’. Mobile phone coverage extends to most of the country. Internet cafes are located in most parts of the country.

For every 1,000 people there are 92 landlines, 1,475 mobile phone subscriptions and 489 internet users (2013).

Public holidays: 

New Year’s Day, Human Rights Day (21 March), Freedom Day (27 April), Workers’ Day (1 May), Youth Day (16 June), National Women’s Day (9 August), Heritage Day (24 September), Day of Reconciliation (16 December), Christmas Day and Day of Goodwill (26 December).

Religious festivals whose dates vary from year to year include Good Friday and Family Day/Easter Monday.