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.