South Africa, a nation of stark contrasts and immense potential, has long struggled with issues of housing and access to essential services.

The recently published Living Conditions chapter in the Socio-Economic Survey by the Centre for Risk Analysis (CRA) (available for viewing on the CRA website on subscription, unveils a comprehensive snapshot of the nation’s diverse living conditions, shedding light on both progress and persistent challenges. These results paint a complex picture of South Africa, one that calls for continued efforts towards greater equity and improved quality of life for all its citizens.

Housing Disparities: A House Divided

With close to 19 million households in South Africa, housing remains a significant issue. The data shows the stark disparities between those living in formal, informal, or traditional dwellings. A significant proportion of households, 19.8%, reside in RDP houses, demonstrating efforts in addressing the housing backlog. However, 12.3% of households live in informal dwellings, and 4.3% in traditional dwellings, indicating the need for continued efforts in providing safe and adequate housing for all.

Water and Sanitation Challenges: A Thirst for Progress

Access to piped water is a crucial indicator of quality of life, and the fact that 88.5% of households have access should be applauded. However, only 45.8% of households have piped water within their dwellings, and 20.5% of total households faced cumulative water interruptions of over 15 days in year 2022. Recently the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) strongly criticised numerous municipalities and water service authorities in KwaZulu-Natal, following an investigation into issues related to water accessibility. This inquiry was prompted by approximately 600 complaints lodged by residents of the province. This indicates a pressing need to enhance water infrastructure and reliability, especially in underserved areas.

In terms of sanitation, 66.2% have access to flush or chemical lavatories, but 1.0% still have no sanitation facility. This gap in basic services highlights the need for targeted interventions to ensure dignity and health for all South Africans.

Energy Access: A Flicker of Hope

While there has been considerable progress in extending electricity access, as only 10.4% of households don’t have access to it, the data also highlight a significant reliance on electricity for cooking (81.3%). In contrast, a smaller percentage (6.7%) resort to gas, and 8.1% continue to use wood and coal for cooking. This underscores the ongoing effort to transition to cleaner and safer cooking methods, posing environmental and health concerns. Additionally, the challenge of load shedding compounds this issue, potentially causing interruptions in electricity supply even for those who have access.

Waste Management and Support Systems: A Work in Progress

Around 62.2% benefit from local authority and municipal refuse removal, showcasing efforts in waste management. Some 15% of households benefit from an indigent support system indicating some efforts to address poverty and inequality. More can be done through initiating a combination of social programmes and projects designed to uplift marginalized communities and provide them with opportunities for economic growth and stability.

Free Basic Services: Bridging the Gap

Access to free basic services, while improving, remains crucial for the most vulnerable. In 2021, nearly 20% had access to free basic water, 14.5% to free basic electricity, 18.2% to free basic sewerage and sanitation, and 16.1% to free basic solid waste removal services. These initiatives help alleviate the burden on low-income households even though they do not provide a permanent solution to address poverty-related challenges in South Africa.

Nevertheless, South Africa’s living conditions reflect a nation in transition, making progress on several fronts but facing deeply entrenched disparities. The data presented by the CRA underscores the need for sustained efforts to provide adequate housing, improve access to essential services, and bridge economic divides. Access to clean water, sanitation, and affordable housing remains critical for many South Africans. Addressing these challenges requires a collaborative approach involving government, civil society, and the private sector, to ensure a brighter and more equitable future for all South Africans.


Tawanda is a research analyst for the Centre For Risk Analysis (CRA). He is primarily involved in writing chapters for the Socio-Economic Survey of South Africa, a reference guide on major trends in various social and economic fields. Tawanda’s other responsibilities include writing opinion pieces, assisting in research projects and reports and liaising with the media. Tawanda holds an Honours in Business Management from the University of Limpopo and is currently studying towards his Masters in Business Management.