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Have SA’s living conditions improved in the past 17 years? ‘It depends’

2019-05-28 14:01

• 13.4% of households use pit latrines without a ventilation pipe

• Two-thirds of pupils attend no-fee schools but many of them drop out due to a lack of money

• Many SA households are also still dependent on social grants

• Nearly half of children in SA have never read a book or drawn with a parent or guardian

Have the general living conditions and standards of South Africans improved over the last 17 years?

Well, according to the statistician-general, Risenga Maluleke, “it depends...”

He was speaking at the release of the General Household Survey (GHS 2018) in Pretoria on Tuesday morning. The survey provides a sense of how far the country has come over the past seventeen years and also outlines some achievements and challenges it still faces.

It also aims to assess the levels of development in the country as well as the extent of service delivery and the quality of those services such as health, education, social security, housing, energy and access to water and sanitation. 

“It depends on the angle you look at ... the number of formal dwellings have increased sharply over the years by 13.5 million so that is an improvement. But, if you look at Gauteng, Western Cape and North West, there’s an increase in informal dwellings. In terms of electricity: paraffin and wood use has declined but in Gauteng there’s been a decline in connection to electricity from 87.2% in 2002 to 77% in 2018 which can be associated with rapid in-migration,” he said.

The report, which surveyed 20 908 households (about 71 137 individuals), also showed that household growth was outpacing population growth, with a majority being single person households.

While the population has increased by 1.3% a year over the study period, the number of households increased by 2.4% a year for the same period.

Almost two-thirds of households have access to flushing toilets, however 13.4% of households use pit latrines without a ventilation pipe. And despite nearly doubling access to improved sanitation since 2002, access remains most limited in Limpopo, which has only 58.9% of households with improved sanitation.

Many SA households are also still dependent on social grants which, Maluleke commented, was “certainly not sustainable”.

According to the report, the percentage of households and persons who benefited from a social grant had “increased decidedly”since 2002.

While 31% of people benefited from a grant last year, 44.3% of households received one or more grants.

A worrying finding to come out of the report noted that nearly half of children in SA have never read a book or drawn with a parent or guardian. To which Maluleke commented:

“We all know that early childhood development (ECD) is very critical, whether at home where children learn by reading or hearing stories during the day or at school. We are saying a large proportion of children don’t experience that guidance from an elder. So policymakers must focus on ECD.”

Two-thirds of pupils attend no-fee schools but many of them drop out due to a lack of money.

While the percentage of pupils attending no-fee schools increased from 21.4% in 2007 to 67.2% last year, at least 24% of pupils who dropped out from school before the age of 18 offered “no money for fees” as the main reason.

“Major strides have been made in the country in terms of access to basic education and basic services. Many families had to walk miles to get water from a river in 2002, but now have taps. Now the challenge is to improve on the quality of those services,” Dr Isabelle Schmidt, chief director of social statistics said.

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October 13 2019