White South African

White South Africans
Total population

2014 Estimate: 4,554,800 (8.4% of South Africa's population) [1]

2011 Census: 4,586,838 (8.9% of South Africa's population) [2]
Regions with significant populations
Throughout South Africa, but concentrated in urban areas
Gauteng 1,920,000
Western Cape 980,000
KwaZulu-Natal 450,000
Eastern Cape 300,000
Free State 270,000
Mpumalanga 250,000
North West 240,000
Limpopo 110,000
Northern Cape 110,000
Afrikaans 61%, South African English 36%, other 3%
Christianity (87%), no religion (9%), Judaism (1%), other (3%)
Related ethnic groups
White Namibians
White people in Zimbabwe
British diaspora in Africa

White South Africans are people from South Africa who are of European descent and who do not regard themselves, or are not regarded as, being part of another racial group (for example, as Coloured).[3] In linguistic, cultural and historical terms, they are generally divided into the Afrikaans-speaking descendants of the Dutch East India Company's original settlers, known as Afrikaners, and the Anglophone descendants of predominantly British colonists. In 2011, 61% were native Afrikaans speakers, 36% were native English speakers, and 3% spoke another language as their mother tongue,[4] such as Portuguese or German. White South Africans are by far the largest European-descended population group in Africa.

White South Africans differ significantly from other white African groups, because they have developed nationhood, as in the case of the Afrikaners, who established a distinct language, culture and faith in Africa.[5]


The history of European settlement in Sub-Saharan Africa started in 1652 with the settlement of the Cape of Storms by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) under Jan van Riebeeck. Despite the preponderance of officials and colonists from the Netherlands, early Europeans also represented a number of other diverse nationalities. Among these were French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution at home and German soldiers or sailors returning from service in Asia. The colony remained under Dutch rule for two more centuries, after which it was annexed by Great Britain. Foundations for a large British diaspora in South Africa were laid with the 1820 Settlers and similar migrations. As a result of the two World Wars large populations. The British annexation of the Cape eventually led to the Great Trek in 1834. The discovery of firstly diamonds in Kimberley and then the Gold rush of the Witwatersrand led to an influx of many prospectors, including a large Jewish population, especially from the Baltic. The two world wars led to another influx of Polish orphans and Italian POW's who returned after the war. Finally the decolonization of Africa led to another large influx of settlers from especially former Portuguese and British colonies.

Today, white South Africans are also considered to be the last major white population group of European ancestry on the African continent, due in part to the mass exodus of colonials from most other African states during regional decolonization. Whites continue to play a role in the South African economy and across the political spectrum. Whites number approximately 4.5 to 5 million, or nearly 9% of South Africa's population. This represents a decline, both numerically and proportionately, since the country's first multiracial elections in 1994. Just under a million white South Africans are also living as expatriate workers abroad, which forms the majority of South Africa's Brain drain.

Apartheid era

Under the 1950 Population Registration Act, each inhabitant of South Africa was classified into one of several different race groups, of which White was one. The Office for Race Classification defined a white person as one who "in appearance is obviously a white person who is generally not accepted as a coloured person; or is generally accepted as a white person and is not in appearance obviously not a white person." Many criteria, both physical (e.g. examination of head and body hair) and social (e.g. eating and drinking habits, familiarity with Afrikaans or a European language) were used when the board decided to classify someone as white or coloured.[3][6] This was ventral extended to all those considered the children of two White persons, regardless of appearance. The Act was repealed on 17 June 1991.

Post-apartheid era

The 1994 Employment Equity Act aimed at achieving equality in South African workplaces. In order to do this, the act required that it be possible to distinguish between black and white South Africans. It was necessary to know if someone was considered to be black or white when evaluating the racial composition of a company's workforce.[3]

In recent decades there has been a steady proportional decline in South Africa's white community, due to higher birthrates among other South African ethnic groups, as well as a high emigration statistic. In 1977, there were 4.3 million whites, constituting 16.4% of the population at the time. It is estimated that at least 800,000 white South Africans have emigrated since 1995.[7]

Like many other communities strongly affiliated with the West and Europe's colonial legacy in Africa, white South Africans are often economically better off than their black African neighbors and have only relatively recently surrendered political dominance to majority rule. There were also some white Africans in South Africa who lived in poverty—especially during the 1930s and increasingly since the end of minority rule. Current estimates of white poverty in South Africa run as high as 12%, though fact-checking website Africa Check described these figures as "grossly inflated", and suggested that a more accurate estimate was that "only a tiny fraction of the white population – as little as 7,754 households – are affected".[8]

Lara Logan is a television and radio journalist and war correspondent.

The new phenomenon of white poverty is often blamed on the government's affirmative action employment legislation, which reserves 80% of new jobs for black people[9] and favours companies owned by black people (see Black Economic Empowerment). In 2010, Reuters stated that 450,000 whites live below the poverty line according to Solidarity and civil organisations,[10] with some research saying that up to 150,000 are struggling for survival.[11]

A further concern has been crime. Some white South Africans living in affluent white suburbs, such as Sandton, have been affected by the 2008 13.5% rise in house robberies and associated crime.[12] In a study, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Dr. Johan Burger, said that criminals were specifically targeting wealthier suburbs. Burger revealed that several affluent suburbs are surrounded by poorer residential areas and that inhabitants in the latter often target inhabitants in the former. Burger also related to an entitlement complex that criminals have; "They feel they are entitled, for their own sakes, to take from those who have a lot". The report also found that residents in wealthy suburbs in Gauteng were not only at more risk of being targeted but also faced an inflated chance of being murdered during the robbery.[13]

The current global financial crisis has slowed down the high rates of white people emigrating overseas and has led to increasing numbers of white emigrants returning to live in South Africa. Charles Luyckx, CEO of Elliot International and a board member of the Professional Movers Association said that in the past six months leading to December (2008), emigration numbers had dropped by 10%. Meanwhile, he revealed that "people imports" had increased by 50%.[14]

As of May 2014, Homecoming Revolution has estimated that around 340,000 white South Africans have returned in the last decade.[15]

Furthermore, immigration from Europe has also supplemented the white population. The 2011 census found that 63,479 white people living in South Africa were born in Europe; of these, 28,653 had moved to South Africa since 2001.[16]


The Statistics South Africa Census 2011 showed that there were about 4,586,838 white people in South Africa, amounting to 8.9% of the country's population.[17] This is a 6.8% increase since the 2001 census. According to the Census 2011, South African English is the first language of 36% of the white population group and Afrikaans is the first language of 61% of the white population group.[4] The majority of white South Africans identify themselves as primarily South African, regardless of their first language or ancestry.[18][19]


Approximately 87% of white South Africans are Christian, 9% have no religion, and 1% are Jewish. The largest Christian denomination is the Dutch Reformed Church, with 23% of the white population being members. Other significant denominations are the Methodist Church (8%), the Roman Catholic Church (7%), and the Anglican Church (6%).[20]


Many white people have migrated to South Africa from other parts of Africa following the independence of those African nations or when those nations became hostile to them. Many Portuguese from Mozambique and Angola and white Zimbabweans emigrated to South Africa when their respective countries became independent.

Meanwhile, many white South Africans also emigrated to Western countries over the past two decades, mainly to English-speaking countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, and with others settling in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, France, Argentina, Mexico, Israel and Brazil. However, the financial crisis has slowed down the rate of emigration and as of May 2014, Homecoming Revolution has estimated that around 340,000 white South Africans have returned in the last decade.[15]


White South Africans as a proportion of the total population.
Density of the White South African population.
  <1 /km²
  1–3 /km²
  3–10 /km²
  10–30 /km²
  30–100 /km²
  100–300 /km²
  300–1000 /km²
  1000–3000 /km²
  >3000 /km²

According to Statistics South Africa, white South Africans make up 8.9% (Census 2011) of the total population in South Africa. Their actual proportional share in municipalities is likely to be higher, given the undercount in the 2001 census.[21]

The following table shows the distribution of white people by province, according to the 2011 census:[22]

Province White pop. (2011) White pop. (2001) % province (2011) % province (2001) % change 2001-2011 % total whites (2011)
Eastern Cape 310,450 305,837 4.7 4.9 -0.2 Decrease 6.8
Free State 239,026 238,789 8.7 8.8 -0.1 Decrease 5.2
Gauteng 1,913,884 1,768,041 15.6 18.8 -3.2 Decrease 41.7
KwaZulu-Natal 428,842 482,115 4.2 5.0 -0.8 Decrease 9.3
Limpopo 139,359 132,420 2.6 2.7 -0.1 Decrease 3.0
Mpumalanga 303,595 197,079 7.5 5.9 +1.6 Increase 6.6
North West 255,385 233,935 7.3 7.8 -0.5 Decrease 5.6
Northern Cape 81,246 102,519 7.1 10.3 -3.2 Decrease 1.8
Western Cape 915,053 832,902 15.7 18.4 -2.7 Decrease 19.9
Total 4,586,838 4,293,640 8.9 9.6 -0.7 Decrease 100.0


Romanticised painting of an account of the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck, founder of Cape Town.

White South Africans continue to participate in politics, having a presence across the whole political spectrum from left to right.

South African President Jacob Zuma commented in 2009 on Afrikaners being "the only white tribe in a black continent or outside of Europe which is truly African", and said that "of all the white groups that are in South Africa, it is only the Afrikaners that are truly South Africans in the true sense of the word."[23] These remarks have led to the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) laying a complaint with the Human Rights Commission against Zuma.[24] In 2015 a complaint was investigated for hate speech against Jacob Zuma who said “You must remember that a man called Jan van Riebeeck arrived here on 6 April 1652, and that was the start of the trouble in this country,” [25]

Former president Thabo Mbeki stated in one of his speeches to the nation that: "South Africa belongs to everyone who lives in it. Black and White."[26] The history of white people in South Africa dates back to the 16th century.

Prior to 1994, a white minority held complete political power under a system of racial segregation called apartheid. Many white people supported this policy, but some others opposed it. During apartheid, immigrants from Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan were considered honorary whites in the country, as the government had maintained diplomatic relations with these countries. These were granted the same privileges as white people, at least for purposes of residence.[27] Some African Americans such as Max Yergan were granted an 'honorary white' status as well.[28]


Historical population

Statistics for the white population in South Africa vary greatly. Most sources show that the white population peaked in the period between 1989-1995 at around 5.2-5.6 million. Up to that point the white population largely increased due to high birth rates and immigration. Subsequently, between the mid 1990s and the mid-2000s the white population decreased overall. However, from 2006-2013 the population increased.

Year Total population Annual % change Source
1904 1,116,805 N/A 1904 Census
1910 1,270,000 Increase +2.3% Eugene Larson
1960 3,008,000 Increase +2.7% 1960 Census
1965 3,408,000 Increase +2.7% Stats SA
1970 3,792,848 Increase +2.3% 1970 Census
1980 4,522,000 Increase +1.9% 1980 Census[29]
1985 4,867,000 Increase +1.5% 1985 Census[29]
1991 5,068,300 Increase +0.7% 1991 Census
1996 4,434,700 Decrease -3.5% 1996 Census
2001 4,293,640 Decrease -0.6% 2001 Census
2006 4,365,300 Increase +0.3% Stats SA estimate
2009 4,472,100 Increase +0.8% Stats SA estimate
2010 4,584,700 Increase +2.5% Stats SA estimate
2011 4,586,838 Increase +0.05% 2011 Census
2013 4,602,386 Increase +0.34% Stats SA estimate
2014 4,554,800 Decrease -1.0% Stats SA estimate
2015 4,534,008 Decrease -0.5% Stats SA estimate
2016 4,515,800 Decrease -0.42% Stats SA estimate

Fertility rates

Contraception among white South Africans is stable or slightly falling: 80% used contraception in 1990, and 79% used it in 1998.[30] The following data shows some fertility rates recorded during South Africa's history. However, there are varied sources showing that the white fertility rate reached below replacement (2.1) by 1980. Likewise, recent studies show a range of fertility rates, ranging from 1.3 to 2.4. The Afrikaners tend to have a higher birthrate than that of other white people.

Year Total fertility rate[31] Source
1960 3.5 Decrease SARPN
1970 3.1 Decrease SARPN
1980 2.4 Decrease SARPN
1989 1.9 Decrease UN.org
1990 2.1 Increase SARPN
1996 1.9 Decrease SARPN
1998 1.9 Steady SARPN
2001[32] 1.8 Decrease hst.org.za
2006[32] 1.8 Steady hst.org.za
2011 1.6 Decrease Census 2011

Life expectancy

The average life expectancy at birth for males and females

Year Average life expectancy Male life expectancy Female life expectancy
1980[33] 70.3 66.8 73.8
1985[34] 71 ? ?
1997 73.5 70 77
2009[35][36] 71 ? ?


Province (strict) White unemployment rate
Eastern Cape[37] 4.5%
Free State
Gauteng[38] 8.7%
KwaZulu-Natal[39] 8.0%
Limpopo[40] 8.0%
Mpumalanga[39] 7.5%
North West
Northern Cape[41] 4.5%
Western Cape 2.0%

Percentage of workforce

Province Whites % of the workforce Whites % of population
Eastern Cape[37] 10% 4%
Free State
Gauteng[42] 25% 18%
KwaZulu-Natal[39] 11% 6%
Limpopo[40] 5% 2%
North West
Northern Cape[41] 19% 12%
Western Cape[43] 22% 18%


Language 2011 2001 1996
Other languages3.3%1.6%3.7%


Religion among white South Africans remains high compared to other white ethnic groups, but likewise it has shown a steady proportional drop in both membership and church attendance with until recently the majority of white South Africans attending regular church services.

Religious affiliation of white South Africans (2001 census)[44]
Religion Number Percentage (%)
- Christianity 3 726 266 86.8%
- Dutch Reformed churches 1 450 861 33.8%
- Pentecostal/Charismatic/Apostolic churches 578 092 13.5%
- Methodist Church 343 167 8.0%
- Catholic Church 282 007 6.6%
- Anglican Church 250 213 5.8%
- Other Reformed churches 143 438 3.3%
- Baptist churches 78 302 1.8%
- Presbyterian churches 74 158 1.7%
- Lutheran churches 25 972 0.6%
- Other Christian churches 500 056 11.6%
Judaism61 6731.4%
Islam8 4090.2%
Hinduism2 5610.1%
No religion 377 007 8.8%
Other or undetermined 117 721 2.7%
Total 4 293 637

Notable White South Africans

Science and technology


Royalty and Aristocracy

Arts and media





See also


  1. "Mid-year population estimates 2014" (PDF). Statistics South Africa. Retrieved 22 August 2014.
  2. "Census 2011 Census in brief, Report No. 03-01-41" (PDF). Statistics South Africa. 2012. Retrieved 21 January 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 "What's in a name? Racial categorisations under apartheid and their afterlife". Archived from the original on 2014-04-07.
  4. 1 2 Census 2011: Census in brief (PDF). Pretoria: Statistics South Africa. 2012. p. 27. ISBN 9780621413885.
  5. Kaplan, Irving. Area Handbook for the Republic of South Africa. pp. 113–539.
  6. "The People of South Africa" (PDF). Government of the Republic of South Africa. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 December 2008.
  7. White flight from South Africa | Between staying and going, The Economist, 25 September 2008
  8. Do 400,000 whites live in squatter camps in South Africa? No , Africa Check, 22 May 2013
  9. Wood, Simon (22 January 2006). "Race against time". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 February 2013. Certainly the new phenomenon of white poverty is often blamed on the government's Affirmative Action employment legislation, which reserves 80 per cent of new jobs for blacks.
  10. O'Reilly, Finbarr (26 March 2010). "Tough times for white South African squatters". Reuters. Retrieved 25 February 2013. At least 450,000 white South Africans, 10 percent of the total white population, live below the poverty line
  11. Wood, Simon (22 January 2006). "Race against time". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 February 2013. some research claiming that up to 150,000 are destitute and struggling for survival
  12. Fourie, Hilda (2 July 2008). "Criminals feel 'entitled' to steal". Beeld. Johannesburg. Retrieved 25 February 2013. According to the police's latest crime statistics, which were announced at the Union Buildings on Monday, house robberies had increased countrywide by 13.5%.
  13. Fourie, Hilda (2 July 2008). "Criminals feel 'entitled' to steal". Beeld. Johannesburg. Retrieved 25 February 2013. According to the report, Gautengers who live in richer neighbourhoods "like Brooklyn, Garsfontein, Sandton, Honeydew and Douglasdale, have a bigger chance of being targeted or murdered in house robberies".
  14. Coming Home The Times. 21 December 2008
  15. 1 2 Jane Flanagan (3 May 2014). "Why white South Africans are coming home". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  16. "Community Profiles > Census 2011 > Migration". Statistics South Africa. Archived from the original on 1 December 2008. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  17. "Census 2011" (PDF). Statistics South Africa. 30 October 2012. p. 3. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  18. Alexander, Mary (30 June 2006). "Black, white – or South African?". SAinfo. Retrieved 26 June 2013. With 82% defining themselves as 'South African', whites identify with the country the most, followed by coloureds and Indians. Five percent of whites consider themselves to be Africans, while 4% identify themselves according to race and 2% according to language or ethnicity.
  19. "A Nation in the Making: A Discussion Document on Macro-Social Trends in South Africa" (PDF). Government of South Africa. 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-07-11. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  20. "Table: Census 2001 by province, gender, religion recode (derived) and population group.". Statistics South Africa. Archived from the original on 30 November 2006. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  21. "Where have all the whites gone?". Pretoria News. 8 October 2005. Retrieved 2010-03-25.
  22. Census 2011: Census in brief (PDF). Pretoria: Statistics South Africa. 2012. p. 21. ISBN 9780621413885.
  23. "Zuma: Afrikaners true S Africans". Retrieved 3 May 2010.
  24. Zuma’s Afrikaner remark before HRC The Times. 3 April 2009
  25. David Smith (20 February 2015). "Jacob Zuma under investigation for using hate speech". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  26. "Address of the then President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the celebration of Nelson Mandela's 90th Birthday". African National Congress Website. 19 July 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-12-05. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
  27. Honorary Whites, TIME, 19 January 1962
  28. A chronicle of Apartheid's propaganda war on black America, City Press, 25 August 2013
  29. 1 2 Rounded to nearest thousand "Population of South Africa by population group" (PDF). Government of the Republic of South Africa. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  30. "South Africa". SARPN. 2008-12-17. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  31. "South Africa". SARPN. 2008-12-17. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  32. 1 2 "Health Statistics". Health Systems Trust, South Africa. 2002. Archived from the original on 15 May 2006.
  33. Susan De Vos. "Population and Development among Blacks in South Africa: A Review" (PDF). Center for Demography and Ecology, University of Wisconsin. p. 34. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  34. "Israel and the apartheid lie". Israel21c. 14 November 2004. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  35. "Keynote address to the Civil Society Conference by Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary of COSATU". cosatu.org.za. 27 October 2010. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  36. "South Africa: COSATU's Zwelinzima Vavi's Ruth First Memorial Lecture". LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  37. 1 2 "A profile of the Eastern Cape province: Demographics, poverty, inequality and unemployment" (PDF). PROVIDE Project. August 2005. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  38. "Gauteng life 'a mixed bag'". Fin24.com. 27 May 2010. Archived from the original on 30 May 2010.
  39. 1 2 3 "A Profile of the Mpumalanga Province: Demographics, Poverty, Income, Inequality and Unemployment from 2000 till 2007" (PDF). Elsenburg. February 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-11-26. Retrieved 2013-08-31.
  40. 1 2 "A profile of the Limpopo province: Demographics, poverty, inequality and unemployment" (PDF). PROVIDE Project. August 2005. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  41. 1 2 "A profile of the Northern Cape province: Demographics, poverty, inequality and unemployment" (PDF). PROVIDE Project. August 2005. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  42. "A profile of Gauteng: Demographics, poverty, inequality and unemployment" (PDF). Elsenburg. Retrieved 2013-08-31.
  43. "A profile of the Western Cape province: Demographics, poverty, inequality and unemployment" (PDF). Elsenburg. Retrieved 2013-08-31.
  44. "Table: Census 2001 by province, gender, religion recode (derived) and population group". Census 2001. Statistics South Africa. Archived from the original on 2006-11-30. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
  45. Cobain, Ian (19 May 2011). "The rise of Glencore, the biggest company you've never heard of". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
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