SA tired of ‘vote for jobs’ lure

There’s no ‘silver bullet’ to fix the state of unemployment in South Africa, say experts.

There’s no ‘silver bullet’ to fix the state of unemployment in South Africa, say experts.

Published Apr 21, 2024


Durban — Parties across the political spectrum are leaning heavily on the lure of jobs to secure votes, but experts warned it was easy to promise, difficult to deliver.

University of KwaZulu-Natal economics professor Dr Harold Ngalawa said it was “quite easy” to sell the idea that you will create jobs but the issue is, at what rate?

“The process of job creation and job destruction is continuous. But if more jobs are being destroyed than being created, unemployment will accelerate.”

South Africa’s total unemployment rate stands at 32.1% but the IMF says the future looks bleak and predicts that by 2025 that figure could spike to 33.9%.

Ann Bernstein from the Centre for Development and Enterprise said the number of people employed in South Africa had grown by 2.3 million since 2008, while the number of working age South Africans had grown by 9.5 million.

“Speaking broadly, the economy has created fewer than one new job for every four entrants to the labour market in the past 15 years,” she said.

The problem is unlikely to be resolved since no party has presented a credible plan to rescue South Africa from its current state of unemployment, said Wits economics and public finance academic Professor Pundy Pillay.

He cited a myriad challenges as central to joblessness.

“There is no doubt that crime is one of the deterrents to possible investment and job creation, and crime itself is closely linked to the inequalities in the country,” he said.

Pillay stressed that voters were growing impatient and distrusting of the governing party or others promising jobs.

“The ANC speaks of job creation but has done very little because of policy choices it made which did not work.”

He cited the conservative policy choices made by the ANC earlier as partly to blame for the lack of jobs.

“Even during President Thabo Mbeki’s era there was growth but it did not create any jobs. So the idea there is this silver bullet that will create so many jobs is unlikely because of the policy path.”

Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi this week argued that employment and unemployment had nothing to do with politics. He said it was “a crisis facing our young people” and government departments were impeding job creation because of “silo mentality and territorism”, which meant its service delivery initiatives could not get to the “ordinary citizens on the ground”.

The most recent Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS), a household-based sample survey conducted by Statistics SA, show people aged 15-24 and 25-34 continue to have the highest unemployment rates at 59.4% and 39.0% respectively. In addition about 3.4 million (33%) out of 10.2 million people aged 15-24 were not in employment, education or training. Currently 16.7 million South Africans have jobs and 7.9 million are unemployed.

The QLFS shows that in the 4th quarter of 2023, the number of unemployed increased by 46 000 compared with the 3rd quarter of 2023, while the number of those employed decreased by 22 000.

Most job losses occurred in community and social services (171 000), construction (36 000) and agriculture (35 000). However, more people were employed in finance (128 000), transport (57 000) and mining (37 000).

Since it came to power 30 years ago, the ANC has been promising the people jobs and this year it again vows to “put South Africa to work”.

In its election manifesto it says 2.5 million work opportunities would come from delivering public goods and services in communities. A million more would be created through increased support for small enterprises, entrepreneurs and co-operatives, especially in townships and villages.

The DA’s “Rescue Plan for SA” says its “apex priority” is to create 2 million new jobs, including through the introduction of a Youth Employment Opportunity Certificate.

“The certificate will empower young people to break free from the constraints of the minimum wage, giving them better chances of finding jobs. The goal is to make it easier for young people aged 18 to 35 to move from not having a job to having one by offering flexible employment terms.

“The certificate will be valid for two years and will be implemented to give unemployed people who have not been employed for 12 months or more the right to exempt themselves from sectoral wage agreements. This policy will make it easier for employers to hire those who have been out of work for long periods,” says the DA manifesto.

The EFF manifesto outlines numerous ways it says it will create millions of jobs.

These include 4 million jobs through the establishment of state-owned housing and roads companies to deal with the housing and roads infrastructure backlog; a million jobs through establishment of a state-owned security company that will employ all security personnel in government facilities; and another million through a state-owned cleaning, horticulture and landscaping company.

Despite all these promises, Pillay said that in effect the other parties were no different from the ANC.

Independent on Saturday