Census ’96 marks a significant advance on earlier censuses. Its conceptualisation and methodology embodied international best practice and, for the first time in 25 years, no part of South Africa was excluded from the count.
The 1997 preliminary estimates put the population at 37 859 000, markedly lower than expected. However, the final estimates released in October 1998 reflected an upward adjustment, putting the population at 40 583 574.
The apparent unreliability of data from earlier censuses means that trends and projections must be treated with caution, and research is needed to stabilise the data as far as possible.
For example, some analysts suggest that as much as half a million African males could be missing from the figures. This could be because they are such a mobile group. Similarly, up to 300 000 whites appear to be missing, either because they were not counted originally or because they have left the country without informing the South African authorities.
Business and government need a continuous supply of up-to-date information for effective planning. This means that tracking developments must be done more often than through a five-yearly census.