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South Africa: South Africa People Profile


South Africa is a nation of diversity


South Africa is a nation of diversity, with over 50-million people and a wide variety of cultures, languages and religious beliefs.

The total population in South Africa was last recorded at 53.0 million people in 2013 from 17.4 million in 1960, changing 204 percent during the last 50 years. Population in South Africa averaged 33.68 Million from 1960 until 2013, reaching an all time high of 52.98 Million in 2013 and a record low of 17.40 Million in 1960. Population in South Africa is reported by the Statistics South Africa.

Africans are in the majority, making up 79.5% of the population, while white people and coloured people each make up 9.0% and the Indian/Asian population 2.5%.


The total population in South Africa was last recorded at 53.0 million people in 2013 from 17.4 million in 1960, changing 204 percent during the last 50 years. Population in South Africa averaged 33.68 Million from 1960 until 2013, reaching an all time high of 52.98 Million in 2013 and a record low of 17.40 Million in 1960. Population in South Africa is reported by the Statistics South Africa.

Africans are in the majority at 40.2-million, making up 79.5% of the total population. The white population and the coloured population are both estimated at 4.5-million (9.0%) and the Indian/Asian population at 1.3-million (2.5%).

South Africa Population 1960-2015


There have been two official censuses since South Africa's first democratic election in 1994, the first in 1996 and the second in 2001, with a third scheduled for October 2011. The population increased from 40.6-million in 1996 to 44.8-million in 2001 – a growth of 10%. From 2001 to 2011, the population has grown by an additional 12.7%.


Gauteng, South Africa's economic powerhouse, is the most populous of the country's provinces, although it is by far the smallest geographically. Some 11.32-million people live in the province, or 22.3% of the total.

It is followed by KwaZulu-Natal, with 10.81-million people (21.4%), the Eastern Cape with 6.82-million (13.5%), Limpopo with 5.55-million (10.9%), the Western Cape with 5.28-million (10.4%), Mpumalanga with 3.65-million (7.2%), North West with 3.25-million (6.4%) and the Free State with 2.75-million (5.4%).

Although the Northern Cape is the largest province, at almost a third of South Africa's land area, it is an arid region with the smallest population – only 1.09-million people, or 2.1% of the total.


Province Population % of total
Eastern Cape 6 829 958 13.50%
Free State 2 759 644 5.46%
Gauteng 11 328 203 22.39%
KwaZulu-Natal 10 819 130 21.39%
Limpopo 5 554 657 10.98%
Mpumalanga 3 657 181 7.23%
Northern Cape 1 096 731 2.17%
North West 3 253 390 6.43%
Western Cape 5 287 863 10.45%
TOTAL 50 586 757 100%

Source: Statistics South Africa

Comparing 2001 census data and the 2011 population estimates, the provincial share of the total population has fallen in the Eastern Cape (from 14.4% to 13.5%), the Free State (6.6% to 5.4%), Limpopo (11.8% to 10.9%) and North West (8.2% to 6.4%).

Between 2001 and 2011, Gauteng has gone from being the second-most to the most populous province in South Africa, rising from 19.7% of the total to 22.39%. KwaZulu-Natal has gone from the most to the second-most populous province, although its share of the total has risen from 21% to 21.39%.


The African population is made up of four broad groupings:

  • The Nguni, comprising the Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Swazi people.
  • The Sotho-Tswana, who include the Southern, Northern and Western Sotho (Tswana people).
  • The Tsonga.
  • The Venda.


White South Africans include:

  • The Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch, German and French Huguenot who came to the country from the 17th century onwards.
  • English-speakers, descendants of settlers from the British Isles who came to the country from the late 18th century onwards.
  • Immigrants and descendents of immigrants from the rest of Europe, including Greeks, Portuguese, Eastern European Jews, Hungarians and Germans.


"Coloured" South Africans (the label is contentious) are a people of mixed lineage descended from slaves brought to the country from east and central Africa, the indigenous Khoisan who lived in the Cape at the time, indigenous Africans and whites. The majority speak Afrikaans.

Khoisan is a term used to describe two separate groups, physically similar in being light-skinned and small in stature. The Khoi, who were called Hottentots by the Europeans, were pastoralists and were effectively annihilated; the San, called Bushmen by the Europeans, were hunter-gatherers. A small San population still lives in South Africa.

The majority of South Africa's Asian population is Indian in origin, many of them descended from indentured workers brought to work on the sugar plantations of what was then Natal in the 19th century. They are largely English-speaking, although many also retain the languages of their origins. There is also a significant group of Chinese South Africans.


South Africa is a multilingual country. Its new democratic constitution, which came into effect on 4 February 1997, recognises 11 official languages, to which it guarantees equal status. These are:


  • Afrikaans
  • English
  • isiNdebele
  • isiXhosa
  • isiZulu
  • Sesotho sa Leboa
  • Sesotho
  • Setswana
  • siSwati
  • Tshivenda
  • Xitsonga

Besides the official languages, scores of others – African, European, Asian and more – are spoken in South Africa, as the country lies at the crossroads of southern Africa.

According to the 2001 census, isiZulu is the most common home language is, spoken by nearly a quarter of the population. It is followed by isiXhosa at 17.6%, Afrikaans at 13.3%, Sepedi at 9.4%, and English and Setswana each at 8.2%.

Sesotho is the mother tongue of 7.9% of South Africans, while the remaining four official languages are spoken at home by less than 5% of the population each.

Language Number of speakers* % of total
Afrikaans 5 983 420 13.35%
English 3 673 206 8.2%
IsiNdebele 711 825 1.59%
IsiXhosa 7 907 149 17.64%
IsiZulu 10 677 315 23.82%
Sesotho sa Leboa 4 208 974 9.39%
Sesotho 3 555 192 7.93%
Setswana 3 677 010 8.2%
SiSwati 1 194 433 2.66%
Tshivenda 1 021 761 2.28%
Xitsonga 1 992 201 4.44%
Other 217 291 0.48%
TOTAL 44 819 777 100%

* Spoken as a home language
Source: Census 2001

Most South Africans are multilingual, able to speak more than one language. English- and Afrikaans-speaking people tend not to have much ability in indigenous languages, but are fairly fluent in each other's language. A large number of South Africans speak English, which is ubiquitous in official and commercial public life. The country's other lingua franca is isiZulu.





According to the 2001 census the overwhelming majority of South Africans, or 79.8%, are Christian. The independent African Zion Christian churches predominate, being the faith of 15.3% of the total population, and 19.2% of all Christians.

Roughly 15% of the population have no religion, and 1.4% are undetermined about their faith. Islam is the religion of 1.5% of South Africans, Hinduism that of 1.2%, African traditional belief 0.3%, Judaism 0.2% and other beliefs 0.6%.


Religion Number % of total
Christianity 35 750 641 79.8%
Islam 654 064 1.5%
Hinduism 551 668 1.2%
Judaism 75 549 0.2%
Other beliefs 283 815 0.6%
No religion 6 767 165 15%
Undetermined 610 974 1.4%
TOTAL 44 819 774 100%


Source: Census 2001

In terms of population groups, Christianity is most common among white and coloured South Africans, being the faith of 86.8% of the people in both groups. It's slightly less dominant among black South Africans, among whom it falls in line with the national average, being the religion of 79.9% of black people. Roughly a quarter (24.4%) of the Indian population are Christian.

The predominant form of Christianity among black South Africans is the independent and indigenous Zion Christian faith, the religion of 23.7% of black Christians. Black people also have the highest rate of unbelief, with 17.5% saying they have no religion, and 1.3% being undetermined.

Most white South African Christians (42.8%) belong to the Reformed churches, such as the Dutch Reformed Church. Some 9.2% of white Christians are Methodist, 7.8% Pentecostal or Charismatic, 7.7% Apostolic and 7.6% Catholic. White people have the second-highest rate of unbelief, with 8.8% saying they have no religion and 2% being undetermined. Judaism is most common in this community, being the religion of 1.4% of white South Africans.

Predominant churches among coloured Christians are Apostolic (18.6%), Pentecostal or Charismatic (14.2%), Anglican (10.4%) and Catholic (10.2%). Of the other religions, Islam predominates, being the faith of 7.4% of all coloured South Africans. Only 3.8% of the coloured population say they have no religion, and 1.3% are undetermined.

Hinduism is the most common religion (47.3%) in the Indian/Asian population group, followed by Islam (24.7%) and Christianity (24.2%). There is a fairly even spread of churches among Indian and Asian Christians. This group is most certain of their faith, with only 2.3% reporting that they have no religion, and 0.94% being undecided.