Why do we have high levels of Urbanisation in South Africa

South Africa is experiencing high levels of urbanisation, a phenomenon marked by a significant shift of population from rural to urban areas. This trend, while not unique to South Africa, presents unique challenges and opportunities for the country. In this article, we explore the reasons behind the high levels of urbanisation in South Africa, drawing upon relevant data and statements from key figures.

Factors Contributing to High Levels of Urbanisation

Economic Opportunities

The primary driver of high levels of urbanisation in South Africa is the search for economic opportunities. Urban areas, especially in provinces like Gauteng, offer more employment prospects and promise a higher standard of living. This has been a significant pull factor, drawing people from rural areas to cities. Gauteng province, being the smallest yet economically busiest, has seen a dramatic rise in its population, growing by 33.7% from 2001 to 2011, more than double the national average.

Migration Statistics

The high levels of urbanisation are also a result of migration. According to David Makhura, the Premier of Gauteng, in his 2016 State of the Province Address (SOPA), approximately one million people migrated into Gauteng between 2011 and 2016. This influx has had profound implications on spatial planning, affecting service delivery, housing, health, education, and infrastructure.

Youth Demographics

Another factor contributing to high levels of urbanisation is the demographic trend of the urban population. South Africa’s urban population is not only growing larger but also younger. Two-thirds of South African youth currently live in urban areas, indicating a significant generational shift towards urban living.

Urban Growth Rates

The high levels of urbanisation are further evidenced by the growth rates of urban areas. Cities like Polokwane, Rustenburg, Vanderbijlpark, Nelspruit, and Ekurhuleni have been experiencing rapid population growth, with average annual rates between 1.6% and 2.9% over the last decade. Even Cape Town, with a relatively lower growth rate of 1.4%, reflects this urbanising trend.

challenges of High Levels of Urbanisation

Service Delivery and Infrastructure Pressure

The high levels of urbanisation in South Africa place a significant strain on service delivery and infrastructure. As more people move into urban areas, there is increased demand for housing, healthcare, education, and other essential services. This can lead to overcrowding, traffic congestion, and a strain on existing infrastructure.

Future Projections

Looking forward, the United Nations estimated in 2015 that 71.3% of South Africa’s population will live in urban areas by 2030, and almost 80% by 2050. This projection underscores the ongoing trend of high levels of urbanisation and its likely continuation into the future.

Spatial Planning Challenges

The rapid and high levels of urbanisation present significant challenges in terms of spatial planning. Urban areas need to be designed or redesigned to accommodate the growing population efficiently while ensuring sustainable development.


The high levels of urbanisation in South Africa are driven by a multitude of factors, including the pursuit of better economic opportunities, migration trends, a younger urban population, and the rapid growth of urban areas. While this trend presents several challenges in terms of service delivery, housing, and infrastructure, it also offers opportunities for economic growth and development. Addressing the implications of high levels of urbanisation requires comprehensive planning and policy interventions to ensure sustainable and inclusive urban development.

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