Job summits, growth indabas and development imbizos. The talk fests never end.
But perhaps the single most critical issue lurks unremarked upon, or at best skirted around. It’s that there are – globally and in South Africa – just too many of us.
Unfortunately, the concept of “population control” causes pretty much the same reaction among most South Africans as does that of “eugenics” among post-Nazi-era Germans. That is, suspicion and outrage.
Who can forget the Nationalists’ visceral fears regarding the sheer weight of numbers? It was what fuelled family planning, often coercive, aimed at blacks, while whites were encouraged by Nat politicians such as MC Botha to “have a baby for the republic”.
Some 50 years on, the idiocy hasn’t changed, except for the hue of the honcho – note that it’s always the men who demand more babies.
Now it’s Julius Malema, who is again issuing public calls for black women to produce more babies “for the revolution”.
The Nat call for “Botha babies” was, deservedly, a resounding flop. From 1968 to 1994, whites increased by a quarter from 3.6 million people to 4.4 million.
The black African population, however, more than doubled, from 14.7 million to 30 million.
According to Stats SA figures just released, the population is now at 57.7 million, from 38.6 million in 1994.
The black African population is 46.7 million, whites are 4.5 million, coloureds 5.1 million and Indians 1.4 million.
Demographics are a textbook example of the power of compounded growth rates. Over time, small numbers have huge effects. The statistical push is from the net birth rate, the pull is from migration.
Population pressure is not a crisis somewhere down the line that can be tackled by debates at imbizos and summits. It is a crisis right now.
South Africa’s economy is simply not growing fast enough, with the gap between population growth and economic growth getting steadily wider.
In fact, each year, we are collectively getting about a percentage point poorer. We have arguably the greatest unemployment crisis in the world and it is getting worse, not better.
In South Africa, only 43% of adults work, while in most countries that figure exceeds 60%.
Since employment lamentably reflects racial demographics – for it is stubbornly difficult to eradicate historical and educational reasons – it is the black African community that is most affected.
It is also this community that is most affected by illegal immigration, most of it from elsewhere in Africa.
Xenophobia is the inevitable result.
According to Stats SA, at least one out of six people swelling our population growth is an immigrant.
In the five years from 2011 to 2016, almost a million people came from elsewhere in Africa. Then social welfare and population development minister Geraldine Fraser Moleketi in 1998 declared that South Africa needed an explicit population policy to achieve sustainable development. Migration had to be addressed. The family unit would be recognised as the critical component necessary for social progress.
Unfortunately, that ministerial portfolio – now the department of social development – has long since dropped the population component in favour of the welfare one.
It is a self-inflicted political blindspot that South Africa can ill afford.