Sisonke District Municipality is ranked 5th out of the 11 district municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal with respect to provincial Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita
(R9 920 in 2004). Even with this small amount, 53% of the population is dependent on grants. Sisonke also makes a negligible contribution to provincial GDP, of about 1.1% (R2.578bn) better only than uMzinyathi. Moreover, this is after a 30% increase, mostly fuelled by the Community Services sector, which has outpaced the Agriculture sector.
Bothe the Community services and Agriculture sectors dominate the economy,
contributing 60% of the district’s Value-Added by Region(GVA-R) in 2010.
With regards to social indicators, Sisonke is the smallest district municipality in the
province, having a population of 500 000 in 2010,and a population growth rate of less
than 1% from 1997 to 2010. This is less than half the provincial average. This was accredited to shifting household dynamics, rural-urban migration patterns, and HIV/AIDS (prevalence at 14% in 2010 and rising). Furthermore, the population is concentrated
in the 3 largest local municipalities in the district – Umzimkhulu, Ingwe, and uBuhlebezwe. This makes service and infrastructure delivery extremely costly, thereby causing glaring inequalities across geographical divides.
Apart from low population rates and the consequences thereof, Sisonke faces other
social problems. Poverty was as high as 66% in 2010, although this is a reduction
from 74% in 2001. Low income is also a problem as the high dependency of grants suggests. Illiteracy rates are high, at 11%; however this is less than the provincial
average, which lies at 15.7%. Unemployment however, is almost double the provincial average, and lies at 48%.
However, despite the gloomy outlook, Sisonke district has a very strong agriculture
sector, with favourable soils, and a dairy industry that supplies 10% of all milk consumed
in South Africa, and 35% of Clover’s total milk intake. Forestry, maize, potatoes, and beef
farming are also very strong in the area. The tourism sector is also playing a significant
role, with the public sector management team expressing a deep commitment to
promoting the industry in the district. Sisonke is thus looking to utilise its comparative advantages.