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FACTSHEET: Domestic migration in South Africa

Although many reports on migration focus on international, foreign-born migrants, the vast majority of migration that happens in South Africa happens within its borders and is the result of South Africans moving from one province to another – what is described as domestic migration.

Domestic migration includes circular migration of South Africans, such as migrant workers who work in one part of the country and maintain a residence in another part of the country, and permanent migration between and to urban areas.

Gauteng has most internal migrants

Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) measures domestic migration as part of its surveys by asking respondents in which province they were born. This provides internal migration data at a provincial and a municipal level, but does not provide information on inter-city migration.  

Dr Sally Peberdy, senior researcher at the Gauteng City-Region Observatory, says that, in addition to having the largest numbers and largest proportion of foreign-born migrants, Gauteng province also has the most internal migrants.

According to the 2016 Community Survey, only 65% of people living in Gauteng were born in the province (this figure was even lower, at 54%, in 2011), with 29% of Gauteng residents born in other provinces. Nearly 10% of Gauteng’s population hails from Limpopo, which is far larger than the estimated 6% of Gauteng residents who identify as foreign-born (2011 census = 9.2% foreign-born).  

“The number of internal and international migrants are a lot lower than what were expected and lower even than in 2011. Once again trends revealed in the Community Survey have shown unexpected trends and this too is being subjected to investigation whilst the data is released,” Stats SA’s Diego Iturralde told Africa Check.

Local and foreign-born SA populations by province, 2011 and 2016

ProvincePopulation 2011Population 2016% foreign-
born (2011)
% foreign-
born 2016
% local-born (province) 2011% local-born (province) 2016

Source: Community Survey 2016

StatsSA’s Diego Iturralde explains that they are also able to use the survey data to compare rates of in-migration (migration into a province) versus out-migration (migration from a province), in order to calculate a net migration rate.

For example, although Gauteng received more than 435,000 migrants in the past five years, according to data obtained during the 2016 Community Survey, during the same period more than 211,000 people left – causing a net in-migration of just over 224,000 people, Iturralde says.

In same period the Western Cape, the province with the next-highest population and proportion of all migrants (domestic and foreign-born), saw net in-migration of less than half this number. Limpopo, KZN and the Free State all experienced negative net migration during the survey period.  

Net migration in South Africa, 2011-2016

ProvinceIn-migrationOut-migrationNet Migration
Western Cape158,63162,25196,380
North West104,18869,55534,633
Eastern Cape96,442133,415-36,973
Free State49,25554,274-5,018
Northern Cape32,84721,36211,484


Edited by Nechama Brodie

Read more:

Part one: How many international migrants are there in SA?

Part two: Where do South Africa’s international migrants come from?

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