Census 2022 marks SA's first digital population count

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 11 Oct 2023
Statistician-general Risenga Maluleke. (Image source: Presidency)
Statistician-general Risenga Maluleke. (Image source: Presidency)

After years of testing tech-savvy data collection platforms, South Africa has concluded its largely digital population count.

Conducted by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), Census 2022 was the first to introduce digital platforms in the country’s population count post-1994, marking a departure from previous practice.

Stats SA is the agency mandated by Statistics Act No 6 of 1999 to collect data for statistical purposes and conduct a census.

Census 2022 was driven by the fundamental benefits of a technology-driven census, including real-time data collection, processing and timely, quality data, it notes.

The strategic approach was to ensure most processes, such as the geography frame, data collection instruments/tools and data processing were largely technology-driven, says the agency.

As a result, the 2022 census used three modes for data collection: computer-assisted personal interviews, computer-assisted telephonic interviews, and self-enumeration through the internet (computer-assisted web interviews).

Says Stats SA: “The multi-mode data collection approach became an advantage in conducting a census in the COVID-19 pandemic environment that affected key census phases, including geography frame finalisation and data collection.”

Stats SA last conducted a population and household census in 2011, and thousands of enumerators, armed with pencils and questionnaire forms, went door-to-door recording citizens' data.

The national statistical service first touted plans for a tech-influenced population count in 2018, saying an online response option to the census was on the cards, revealed National Treasury's full budget review document.

At the time, the document noted that using an internet-based platform to collect population data would require the purchase of about 165 000 specialised tablets linked to cloud-based servers, with communications on secure mobile infrastructure, and costs expected to amount to R750 million.

In August 2020, Stats SA said it was conducting a trial of the country’s first digital population count, noting this would be done through the use of online and telephonic data collection platforms.

Through the digitally-led 2022 census – South Africa’s fourth census undertaken in the post-1994 democratic dispensation – Stats SA shows the country’s population increased from 51.7 million in 2011, to more than 62 million in 2022.

This, it states, signals a growth rate of 1.8% in the intercensal period.

Stats SA’s census data further shows females constituted 51.5% of the total population, while 48.5% were males.

Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal had the highest populations, at 15 million and 12.4 million, respectively. Northern Cape had the smallest at 1.3 million.

Black Africans remain the dominant population group at 81.4%, followed by the coloured population at 8.2%. The white population percentage declined to 7.3% in 2022 from 8.9% observed in 2011, while that for Indians/Asians increased slightly from 2.5% in 2011 to 2.7% in 2022.

The median age increased to 28 years from 25 years in 2011, suggesting a consistent increase over time and an overall increase of three years.

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Image source: Presidency)
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Image source: Presidency)

On the occasion of thehandover of the Census 2022 results, president Cyril Ramaphosa applauded theeffort that went into compiling Census 2022, noting Stats SA enumerators began testsin 2018.

However, in the midst of their work, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, he stated. “Confronted by pandemic restrictions on the movement of people, Stats SA was innovative and adapted quickly.

“Having decided in 2018 to develop multiple data-collection methods, including computer-assisted telephonic interviews and online self-enumeration options, Stats SA introduced complete digitisation of the entire census process.

“As a result, we were able to undertake our census just four months after the initial date of October 2021. Adapting to the fluid situation on the ground meant that data collection processes had to be rapidly modernised.

“As a result, this is South Africa’s first-ever digital census, compiled from data collected from everyone within the borders of the country.”

Noting the complexities of undertaking a census, Ramaphosa said such a process requires years of preparation and planning. “It is a tough task for enumerators, who have to traverse the country counting people in households, hospitals, prisons and other institutions, the homeless and people in transit at our borders.

“Statistics South Africa must be commended for placing an absolute premium on the credibility and integrity of the data, and adhering to international best practice.

“It is important that South Africans have the utmost confidence in the numbers that have been presented, and will therefore welcome the statement by the Statistics Council on the results.”

The president further noted the data contained in a census is crucial for planning, monitoring and evaluation for governments. “It informs the planning, budgeting and policy-making work of government at the most fundamental level.

“We have long said that one of our priorities in building a capable, ethical, developmental state is to ensure policy-making is evidence-driven.

“Policy-making that is not informed by accurate data can result in inefficiency in the allocation of resources, under-estimation of the needs of citizens, poorly planned programmes and poor financial management.

“Unless we are able to see the bigger picture, we are unable to forecast. Census 2022 gives us the information we need to implement government’s programme of action in a targeted, evidence-driven manner,” Ramaphosa concluded.