Mapping unemployment

A key challenge for any government facing large development challenges is where to focus limited resources and capabilities. It is not always feasible to tackle every development deficit – whether it be poor access to services, poverty, vulnerability to environmental risks, weak economic activity and corresponding high unemployment – everywhere at once. This raises the difficult question of how to spatially target development efforts and energies.

This question is alive in the Gauteng City-Region. Here provincial and local government have emphasised, at different times, both the importance of focusing on needs in the poorer periphery of the province, inter alia through the development of large mega-human settlements that will work as new cities, and also the urgency of township revitalisation and township economy programmes. But which – periphery or township – presents the greatest priority? The answer depends, in part, on how one looks at the problem.

This August 2018 Map of the Month examines the issue by asking where unemployment is most acutely felt in Gauteng, and considering two ways of seeing the problem. Map 1 shows in red all areas of the province that have unemployment rates that are worse than the provincial median. Map 2 shows where unemployed people are concentrated. The patterns in these maps overlap to some extent. However there are also notable differences.

Map 1 presents the ‘expanded’ unemployment rate using Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) 2011 census data and StatsSA’s Small Area Layer (SAL), which provides a higher level of detail than ward-based mapping. The ‘expanded’ unemployment rate was calculated as the ratio of the number of unemployed, including discouraged work seekers, to the total number of the economically active persons or labour force (which includes the employed, unemployed, and discouraged work seekers). The ‘expanded’ unemployment rate is different from the ‘strict’ unemployment rate, calculated as the ratio of the number of unemployed, excluding discouraged work seekers, to the total number of the economically active persons or labour force (the number of employed and unemployed). The ‘expanded’ unemployment rate is taken as a truer reflection of the extent of the developmental challenge facing the spheres of government. The provincial median unemployment rate was 27% as in 2011. The map only shows those areas that had unemployment rates worse than the median in 2011. It reveals high unemployment rates in townships, some areas adjacent to townships, and various areas such as Bronkhorstspruit and Winterveldt on the edges of the province.

2018.08 Web Map

Map 1: Unemployment rates

Whereas Map 1 shows where unemployment rates are highest, Map 2 shows where unemployed people are concentrated. Unemployment density was calculated following a process of downscaling the total number of unemployed people and discouraged work seekers per SAL into a square kilometre grid area to obtain a more granular representation of the unemployed across the province. Map 2 shows the greatest aggregation of the unemployed people are concentrated in townships and some inner city areas. The square kilometre areas with the highest concentration of unemployed people are observed in townships such as Alexandra and Diepsloot and contain between 4965 and 8758 people. The map also reveals, in contrast with what seemed to be the message from Map 1, that some of the areas outside townships, which showed patterns of high unemployment rates, have less than 72 unemployed people per square kilometre. In other words, the rate of unemployment in these areas is disturbingly high, but there is a low concentration of unemployed people compared to townships.

2018.08 Web Map2

Map 2: Unemployment density

Methodology for creating the outline of townships layer

The outlines of townships were derived from sub-places classified as townships, based on a list provided by the Gauteng Department of Economic Development (GDED), to which has been added areas classified as 'Township' and 'Informal' in the 2013 GeoTerraImage (GTI) land cover dataset.


Ngwenya, P. and Zikhali, P., 2018. Revitalizing Gauteng City-Region Township Economies Through Value Chain Development. In Cheruiyot, K. (ed.) The Changing Space Economy of City-Regions (pp. 241-273). Springer, Cham.

StatsSA (Statistics South Africa). (2011). Census. Pretoria: Statistics South Africa.

Link to projects: Township economies in the GCR


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