Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The History of Census in South Africa


The first census in any part of South Africa was held in 1796 during the first British occupation of the Cape. It was named the Cape Colony Census and the thrust of it was mainly focused on the master-slave relationships which were prevalent at the time. The Census Act of 1914 was one of the earliest statutes of the former Union of South Africa established in 1910.

By 2014 the population statistical process in South Africa will pass the century mark. During the racially segregated years, the thrust of the various census processes were mainly aimed at the white, coloured and South African Indian population groups resulting in low levels of data recorded in respect of the African population. This was further complicated by the existence of the former Bantustans and self-governing structures created in terms of the separate development policies.

With the census of 1985 and again in 1989, the move towards having a census every five years gained momentum. The 1996 census was the first to be conducted after the democratic elections of 1994 on the basis of a full head count. The second full head count took place during 2001 but it was subsequently evident that a 14.1% undercount occurred mainly in the traditional areas with the Eastern Cape comprising 29.7% , Limpopo 25%, Kwa Zulu 23% and the Northern Cape 1% of this figure.

Given the population densities in some of those areas, the undercount meant that as many as one in five persons in South Africa were not counted. The 2006 Census improved on the 17% undercount experienced during the 2001 Census. The aim of Census 2011 is to further minimise the undercount and to be within the 5% international threshold for undercount in a population census.

Pieter Rautenbach
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