Monitoring South Africa’s metropolitan economies: A survey of the data landscape

22 May 2023
Publication Type: Discussion Document
JEL Code: C89, H70, R23, R58
Discussion Document 13

Disparities in data across different metropoles in South Africa continues to pose challenges for policy makers and officials. Lagging regions do not have the same data generation capacity, adding a constraint to their ability to plan and monitor local development initiatives. Understanding how these local economies develop is essential for interpreting aggregate trends and for contextualising changing patterns of spatial inequality between urban and rural areas. The demand for regional and metropolitan data is growing. 

This paper is the first to compare trends estimated from a range of survey, administrative and private sector sources, including census data, model-based population estimates, official StatsSA employment statistics, labour market data from SARS spatialised panel, widely consulted data harmonised Quentec, and unconventional sources such as night lights luminosity data recorded by satellites. 

  • Which existing sources of data can be leveraged to analyse urban development in South Africa?  
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses in the available data? 
  • Which statistics should be prioritised and improved? 
  • What are the challenges posed in data collection? 
  • Which data captures formal sector metropolitan employment reliably? 
  • What opportunities exist for capturing metropolitan data? 


This paper highlights that while metropolitan data has been poor in South Africa for a long time, there are signs that the situation has started to improve and identifies opportunities to develop ‘gold standards’ which can be used to verify and develop databases across metropoles. With the use of consistent methodologies and reliable data, policy makers can better understand metropolitan economies. 

Discussion Document 13

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