The Human Development Index: Where South Africa Stands 2018-04-10T19:05:09+00:00
The Human Development Index: Where South Africa Stands

By Dr Dirk A Prinsloo

Urban Studies

Against the backdrop of the current euphoria over the announcement that South Africa will host the 2010 World Cup tournament it seems appropriate to examine where the country stands in terms of its human development; both internally and internationally.

Back in 1997 when Jay Naidoo was heading the South African Reconstruction and Development Programme or RDP he stated “The challenge is to meet the basic needs of our people and at the same time stimulate economic growth. These challenges are critical but the real issue that needs attention most is human development.”

In 1990 the United Nations commenced publishing their Human Development Reports for 174 countries. The purpose in this article is to draw attention to the continuing serious need in South Africa for human development. With that in mind, and using data from the United Nations Report, just mentioned, South Africa’s human development will be compared with the rest of the world. In addition human development in the different provinces of South Africa will be presented. Against that background it will be possible to identify specific problem areas that need attention. In passing

Human Development Indices (HDI)

The Human Development Index or HDI is a key measure used by the United Nations to assess the relative level of socio-economic development in countries. In everyday parlance the HDI is a measure of peoples’ ability to live a long and healthy life, to communicate, participate in the community and to have sufficient means to be able to afford a decent living. The HDI is thus a composite of three factors reflecting longevity, economic prosperity, and schooling. More specifically the variables used are:

  • Life expectancy at birth;
  • Per capita income; and
  • Level of education based on the adult literacy rate and the average number of years of schooling of adults.

The index for any one country has a numerical range between 1 and 0. Countries with an HDI below 0.5 are considered to have a low level of human development, a score of 0.5 to 0.79 a medium level of development, and those with values of 0.8 and above are nations considered to have a high level of human development.

How does South Africa compare to the rest of the world?

The discussion that follows draws upon the data set out in Tables 1 and 2.

Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Australia, and the Netherlands are the five countries with the highest HDIs, all above 0.938. South Africa only appears in the 111th position out of 174 countries on the UN list for 2001 with a score of 0.684. It is in a cluster of other countries with a similar score and that include Vietnam, Indonesia, and Bolivia. The HDI of 0.684 places South Africa almost in the middle of the set of countries whose scores indicate a medium level of human development.

Converting to everyday English we can say that countries with a medium level of human development have a life expectancy at birth of 68 years, an adult literacy rate of 80.4 per cent, and at least 4,8 years of schooling. Although formally ranked in the group of countries with the medium level of human development South Africa has a life expectancy rate of 50.9 years, an adult literacy rate of 85,6 per cent and an average of 6,9 years of schooling.

The data in Table 2 shows how South Africa compares with Norway, the country with the highest HDI in the world.

What is the rate of Human Development in the different provinces in South Africa?

The data used in the discussion on the provinces is based on the 1996 Census.

Two provinces in South Africa, the Western Cape and Gauteng, fall in the category of a high level of human development. The Western Cape has an index value of 0.826, which would place the province more or less in the 44th position on the list of world rankings. It would be listed after countries such as Singapore and Portugal. Gauteng with an HDI of 0.818 is comparable with countries such as Venezuela and Poland.

There are six provinces in South Africa with medium HDIs. The Northern Cape with a population of 740 000 has an index of 0.698 (ranked 80th) followed by Mpumalanga (0.694 ranked 81st), Free State (0.657 ranked 93rd), Kwa-Zulu Natal (0.602 ranked 103rd), Northwest (0.543 ranked 112th), and the Eastern Cape (0.507 ranked 119th).

The Northern Province, now Limpopo, had an HDI of 0.47 (rank 123) that places it alongside Namibia and Botswana.

Provinces with an HDI below the national average deserve special attention as far as human development is concerned.

How does the HDI vary between urban and rural areas?

The level of urbanization in South Africa currently stands at 57.6 per cent (Worldbank2003). The HDI for urban areas is considerably higher than that of non-urban/rural areas. The former reflects a high HDI and the latter a low HDI. Pressure will be placed on all urban areas to provide better housing and community facilities. Unemployment rates are also the highest in those provinces that need increased human development. Cities must deal more constructively with the poor, if not the poor will deal with our cities! This must enjoy a high priority by all parties involved in order support sustainable urban development and to prevent urban decay.



How does the HDI vary between the sexes?

In South Africa females have a higher life expectancy than males. Their educational attainments, however, are a little lower but their per capita income is considerably lower than that of their male counterparts. This inequality must be addressed.

Change in HDI since 1975

By the very nature of the variable involved neither they, nor the HDI itself, cannot be expected to show rapid changes. The changes are normally gradual and spread out over a period of years. The HDI for South Africa has shown a gradual increase from 1975 up and until 1995, after which it has started to decline to its current level of 0.684. One should seek the reasons for this trend. In doing so one must bear in mind the wildly fluctuating levels of the Rand:Dollar exchange rates and the extent to which the HIV/AIDS pandemic has impacted on the variables at the heart of the index.


Future role of all South Africans

The HDI can be used to identify specific areas in South Africa for prioritizing programmes of human development. Specific provinces have been identified where more than the normal assistance is required. Inequalities among the population groups must be addressed, more attention must be given to the narrowing of the gap between the sexes. Human development programmes must also support the process of urbanization.

Given the volume of capital that is expected to flow into South Africa as a result of winning the bid for the 2010 World Cup one must make a plea to our authorities. Use an appropriate percentage to help improve the human development of those who need it most so that we may use their talents not only in the development and upgrading programmes for the tournament itself, but in sustaining our development in the years thereafter.