Language, residential space and inequality in Cape Town: Broad-brush profiles and trends

  • Lloyd Hill University of Stellenbosch
  • Simon Bekker University of Stellenbosch
Keywords: Language, Migration, Urbanisation, Cape Town, South Africa


This article uses South African census data for 1996, 2001 and 2011 to explore the relationship between language and demographic change in the metropolitan region of Cape Town. We begin with a conceptual and methodological discussion of the use of ‘language’ as a demographic variable, before commencing with a GIS based analysis of the changing relationship between ‘household language’ and selected census variables associated with post-apartheid demographic change. We focus particular attention on variables selected to shed light on urban inequality, such as education level, income, race and in-migration. Data on adults at ward level in Cape Town is used to develop a comparative spatial context for this analysis. Our main finding is a significant level of continuity between 1996 and 2011 with respect to the geo-social patterning of the three main languages in the metro: Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa. We argue that English and Afrikaans have retained status through proximity to key development corridors. We explain this trend in terms of different streams of migrants, settling at different times and in different regions of the city.


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Author Biographies

Lloyd Hill, University of Stellenbosch
Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology
Simon Bekker, University of Stellenbosch
Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology