Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Ellul 5763 - September 25, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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South African Census
by D. Saks, South Africa

The 2001 South African census, the results of which were finally released in the first half of this year, reveals a Jewish community whose numbers, despite emigration, remain relatively stable but which is aging and steadily shrinking as a proportion of the general population.

The data, once adjusted to include the proportion of those who left the religion question blank, indicates an overall white Jewish population in the region of 72,000. The community reached a high of 119,000 in 1981, since which it has been in steady decline. A puzzling feature of the census, however, is the fact that, contrary to all expectations, the white Jewish population actually increased between 1996 and 2001. According to the 1996 census, only 55,734 whites gave their religion as Jewish.

Despite this apparent growth, the 2001 census showed a continued decline of Jews as a proportion of the overall South African population, which increased from 39,806,599 in 1996 to 44,819,777 in 2001. Today only one South African in approximately 700 is Jewish. By comparison in 1936, when Jews comprised 4.5 percent of the white population and the whites themselves made up nearly 20 percent of the total population, approximately one out of every 115 people was Jewish.

The basic reliability of the 2001 figures is confirmed by the fact that its totals for the various provinces are largely reflective of the figures of Jewish communal registers kept in most of the major centers.

Another puzzling feature of the 2001 census, and also the 1996 census before it, is the fact that a significant number of nonwhites also gave Judaism as their religion. All but a bare handful of these have never been involved at any level in mainstream Jewish affairs, nor indeed is the overwhelmingly white Jewish community even aware of their existence. 11,979 blacks, 1287 coloreds (of mixed race) and 615 Indians claimed to be Jewish.

The Jewish population is concentrated in the four main urban centers, namely Johannesburg (46,000), Cape Town (19,000), Durban (3,000) and Pretoria (1,500). Other major cities, such as Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth and East London, account for a further 1,500 Jews altogether while about 1,500 reside in the smaller country towns and rural areas.

Christians, with 35,750,636, comprised 95 percent of those who gave their religion, with the combined total of all the religious minorities being less than two million. Contrary to recent press reports, the South African Muslim population is nowhere near two million, even after adjustments are made to reflect those who did not answer the religion question. However, the Muslim total did increase significantly, from 553,585 in 1996 to 654,064 in 2001.

The census data confirms the fact that, relative to the general population, the Jewish community is an aged community. 19 percent of Jews (11,979) were in the 65 and over category, as opposed to less than 5 percent of the general population. In the 45-64 category, the respective percentages were 27 percent and 13 percent. Children and young adults up to the age of 19 comprise 22 percent (13,600) of the Jewish as opposed to nearly 40 percent of the general community. Only in the 20-44 category (32 percent and 39 percent) did the respective figures approach parity.

Nearly half of Jews over the age of twenty had been educated beyond the matric level. Of those employed, just under one- third classified themselves as professionals and one-fifth as being senior officials or managers.


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