Understanding Socio-Economic Trends in South Africa’s Township Using Innovative Survey & Geospatial Methods

Vibrant Cultures, Entrepreneurship, and Opportunities for Socio-economic Development Characterize SA Townships

In the shadow of South Africa’s bustling cities lies dynamic and evolving economic landscapes – townships. Once marginalized areas, these communities are now emerging as vibrant hubs of entrepreneurship and cultural richness. Despite enduring socio-economic challenges, South Africa’s townships are witnessing a remarkable transformation, presenting a wealth of opportunities for investors, businesses, and residents alike.

Townships are residential urban areas that were designated for African/Black, Coloured and Asian/Indian people during the apartheid era. These areas were in most cases located on the outskirts of major cities or large urban centres and lacked adequate infrastructure and services compared to white-designated areas. Today, many townships continue to face socio-economic challenges, including high unemployment, poverty, and limited access to quality education and healthcare. However, townships are also hubs of vibrant culture, entrepreneurship, and community-driven development efforts.

Soweto, one of the largest and most well-known townships, is home to numerous small businesses, arts and music scenes, and historical landmarks like the Hector Pieterson Memorial. Other townships, such as Khayelitsha and Alexandra, have seen the rise of innovative social enterprises and community organizations working to improve living conditions and create economic opportunities for residents. While the legacy of apartheid continues to shape the realities of township life, many South Africans are working to transform these communities into more inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous spaces.

South Africa’s townships represent a significant and largely untapped economic opportunity. With nearly half of the country’s urban population residing in these townships, which account for a market worth hundreds of billions of Rands. The township economy is dominated by small, informal businesses like spaza shops, street vendors, and micro-enterprises. These businesses play a vital role in meeting the daily needs of township residents, but they also face challenges like limited access to financing and technology.

As township incomes have risen, so too have consumer aspirations. There is growing demand among township residents for more formal retail options, including major supermarket chains and shopping malls. Retailers that can successfully adapt their offerings and strategies to the unique township context stand to benefit from this expanding market. Initiatives are underway to support the development of the township economy, including efforts to improve financial inclusion, infrastructure, and access to business resources.

While the township economy has historically been overlooked, it is now recognized as a significant potential contributor to South Africa’s economic growth and transformation. Unlocking the full potential of this vibrant, culture-rich market represents a significant opportunity for businesses, investors, and the communities themselves. By supporting local initiatives, investing in infrastructure such as shopping malls, and promoting economic development there is a growing effort to address the longstanding challenges faced by township residents.

In the quest to unlock the full potential of South Africa’s township economies, data and particularly geospatial data, emerges as being crucial. Geospatial insights offer a nuanced understanding of the spatial dynamics within these communities, enabling businesses and policymakers to make informed decisions that drive sustainable development. Moreover, in a rapidly evolving economic landscape, geospatial data provides invaluable insights into changing socio-economic, consumer behaviour and market trends. By harnessing the power of geospatial data, stakeholders can identify optimal locations for new ventures, pinpoint areas in need of infrastructure investment, and tailor interventions to meet the specific needs of township residents.

Unlocking Township Insights – GeoScope’s Unique KasiSurveys & Circle Point Analysis

GeoScope has developed two innovative products that incorporate the mapping of household surveys – KasiSurveys and Circle Point Analysis. KasiSurveysgeocodes nationally representative household survey data and classifies records using township boundaries into those occurring within and outside of township. This enables analysis of the weighted household survey data for the first time to examine trends within townships in South Africa. As an example, geocoding of the General Household Survey (GHS) provides for the ability to analyse the individual and household data from Statistics South Africa’s nationally representative survey to understand socio-economic trends within and outside of townships.

This product is called KasiGHS. The application of this method will also be used to understand socio-economic trends using other nationally representative surveys such as the South African Social Attitude Survey (SASAS) of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). It will also be used to understand purchasing behaviour of consumers within townships using the Marketing All Products Survey (MAPS) from the Marketing Research Foundation (MRF).

Circle Point Analysis involves geocoding the location of interviews in household surveys to the centroid of the area where they were conducted and dispersing them into a circle of several hundred metres in radius. Each point in the circle represents a sampled respondent with the centre of the circle showing the residential location of respondents interviewed. By dispersing the interviews into a circle rather than showing their exact geographic location, guarantees the anonymity of respondents. Questions asked in the survey are then used to thematically colour code the points to show respondents’ answers.

Questions relating to individuals’ differences in education, health status and access to medical schemes, use of smartphones, differences in income and levels of employment and travel times to work between township and non-township areas can be answered. The GHS household survey data includes invaluable data on household services, available telecommunications, use of different transport modes, access to public services, hunger, agricultural production, household income and wealth status. Analysis can also be done of the data at a more granular level to do comparisons between one township and another. Having geocoded the survey records, machine learning algorithms can be used to create estimates of different variables at a small area level, such as the enumeration area or subplaces.

Mapping Insights and Geographic Trends in SA’s Township Population

To show the flexibility of using KasiSurveys and Circle Point Analysis the sections below describe the analysis of trends associated with individual and household records from the 2022 General Household Survey. An interesting education variable analysed is the percentage of the population that has experienced some form of corporal punishment by teachers. Looking at the tabular data it indicates that nationally, 1.5% of the sampled population indicated that their children had experienced some form of corporal punishment by teachers. Although corporal punishment is not allowed in South African schools by law, Statistics South Africa reports that it continues but analysis of the GHS data shows a decline from over 1 mil in 2019 to or 899 902 in 2022. The question then becomes – is there any geographical trends to this data?

Looking at the provincial trends it is KwaZulu-Natal at 3.5% that has the highest incidence of corporal punishment followed by the Eastern Cape with 3.3%. In these two provinces, 76.6% report that it is occurring within traditional areas followed by 21.2% in urban settings. Using the Circle Point Analysis one can see that it is distributed across the province but with some rural districts showing higher incidents of corporal punishment with the highest being Ilembe, followed by Umkhanyakude and Zululand districts. Looking at eThekwini metro, there are distinct patterns with township to the south of Durban, including Folweni and Umlazi, which compared to other townships in the country have much higher incidence of corporal punishment of learners by teachers. The top five townships of those surveyed in 2022 when it comes to corporal punishment by teachers is Umlazi (2.4%) and Folweni (1.8%) in KwaZulu-Natal, Kanana (1.1%) and Jouberton (1.1%) in North West, & Mangaung (0.8%) in the Free State province.

Figure 2: Extent of corporal punishment by teachers in KwaZulu-Natal and eThekweni metro.An analysis of income groups in South Africa shows the normal bell shaped curve except for the 15.8% that falls into the R192 001 – R360 000 income category. It is the highest percentage and stands out from all other income categories. An analysis of the tabular data provides no distinctive factors to describe this income category, except that the majority are African/black in the 25 – 40 economically active age group and live predominantly in townships. What the Circle Point Analysis shows in the metropolitan areas of Johannesburg and Ekuhurleni, is that 64% of the people earning this income live in townships with a further 19% living within 2km proximity of a township.

In the same way, 55% of people earning between R192 001 – R360 000 live in townships in eThekweni, with another 25% living within 2 kilometre proximity while Cape Town has 62% living in townships and another 21% living within 2 kilometre proximity. This reflects the type of economic and income changes being experienced in townships and that some township residents are using their disposal income to move to possibly better residential suburbs on the periphery of townships. What is interesting to note is that it is two Asian/Indian townships of Phoenix (3.1%) and Chatsworth (2.3%) in KwaZulu-natal that are the two townships having the highest number of people earning between R192 001 – R360 000 in the country. This is followed by Soweto with 2.2% in Johannesburg and Blue Downs in cape Town with 1.42%.

Figure 3:Distribution of GHS respondents earning an income of R192 001 – R360 000 in Johannesburg and EkuhurleniMapping Socio-economic Trends & Disparities Between SA’s Townships

Looking at the 2022 household GHS data in relation to access to Internet at home, the national average is 13% with only 6% coming from townships. The question that arises is – are there any differences geographically and between townships? What one sees is that 37% of households in Gauteng townships have access to the Internet at home compared to 36.2% in the Western Cape with KwaZulu-Natal being far back at 13.7%. Differences between Gauteng townships that were sampled in the survey shows Soweto has 24.6% with Internet access at home compared to Alexandra with 8.9% and Mamelodi with 8.4%. It is the Coloured townships, such as Gatesville (27%), Mitchell’s Plain (25.5%), Blue Downs (14.3%) and Grassy Park (10.7%), that are by far the best off in the Western Cape province. In all of these townships, it is within the wealthier parts of these townships where access to Internet at home occurs, primarily because they have higher disposable incomes.

The extent to which households are experiencing hunger is an important indicator of the socio-economic well-being of a country or province. According to the 2022 GHS, just below 12% or 2.2 mil households indicated that during the last 12 months there were times that they did not eat because there was not enough money to buy food. The two provinces that have the highest number of households experiencing hunger was KwaZulu-Natal with 583 754 and Gauteng with 547 878. At 25%, the semi-arid and largely urbanised province of the Northern Cape had the highest proportion of households experiencing hunger followed by another partly semi-arid province in the form of North West at 19%.

Figure 4: Distribution of respondents experiencing hunger across the Northern Cape and Kimberley’s townships.

What is interesting to see is that some of the more arable provinces like KwaZulu-Natal (18.2%), Mpumalanga (16.1%) and the Free State (13.2%) also have fairly high proportions of households experiencing hunger. What the Circle Point Analysis shows is that in nearly all urban places in the Northern Cape province, there is some degree of hunger being experienced. However, it is in the larger urban townships such as Galeshewe and Roodepan near Kimberley where there are distinctly higher levels of hunger. Looking at hunger in KwaZulu-Natal, one in three people experience hunger in the rural traditional areas while in the commercial farming areas 21% are experiencing hunger. It is in districts such as Uthungulu and Umkhanyakude where higher proportions of the population are experiencing hunger. Hunger is not as significant in the urban areas and townships, although there are geographic differences between townships in eThekwini with Umlazi showing a higher level compared to other townships in the metro.

Wealth status is defined by asking households what they perceive themselves to be. In South Africa, the majority of people (51% or 33 mil) indicate that they’re just getting along while 26.4% (16 mil) indicate that they are poor or very poor. There are 3.6% or 2.1 mil people that believe that they are very well off or wealthy. The question then is – in which provinces or geographic areas do these wealthy and very well off people live? It is not surprising to find that over 638,000 live in Gauteng while 509,000 live in the Western Cape province.

Figure 5: Self assessed wealth status in South Africa

Assuming that the GHS survey is representative of the different geographic areas and communities (although it is well known that access to security villages and estates it is near impossible) it is surprising to see the geographic distribution of wealthy people in Gauteng and the Western Cape. It is Ekuhurleni metropolitan area (42.6%) that has the highest number of wealthy people followed by Pretoria (25.2%) with Johannesburg and Sedibeng at 16.1% coming equally third. The size of the area and the density of households will have a significant influence on these figures, which results in a Ekuhurleni still having the highest density of wealthy people followed by Johannesburg.

What is extremely surprising in the Cape Peninsula, is the southern Cape Peninsula with suburbs such as Muizenberg, Fishhoek, Noordhoek, Kommetjie and Hout Bay, having the highest percentage of wealthy people (41%). The Southern Suburbs come in second with 28% followed by Atlantic Coast & Northern Suburbs with 19.7% and the City Bowl/Camps Bay with 11.5%. Other parts of the Western Cape with people considering themselves to be very well off and wealthy include the Cape Winelands with 21% and the West Coast, Overberg, and Eden districts with 33.8%.

Table 1: Number and percentage of the population self-reporting that they are very well off or wealthy in regions of Gauteng and the Cape Peninsula

Unlocking the full potential of South Africa’s townships requires the leveraging of survey data to make informed decisions. GeoScope’s innovative products, KasiSurveys and Circle Point Analysis, offer rapid insights into socio-economic trends within townships to tailor interventions to address residents’ needs. Analyzing the 2022 GHS data also reveals disparities in access to services, levels of hunger and wealth across provinces and townships. The data provides surprising data on the distributions of wealth that could not have been discerned using other methods. Efforts to harness township potential for inclusive & sustainable development in the public and retail sectors must be guided by insights gleaned from innovative survey and geospatial methods such as those contained in KasiSurveys and Circle Point Analysis.

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