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Government “concern” about unemployment is not enough

NEWS ANALYSIS: The latest unemployment figures by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) means that the gap between ‘the haves’ and ‘the have nots’ has widened even further, which will have catastrophic implications for the country’s economic growth ambitions. Government is apparently “very concerned” by the latest figures putting unemployment rate at an alarming 26.7%.

Acting Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Novisiwe Mapisa-Nqakula, while speaking at parliament’s post cabinet briefing on Thursday said that government is working tirelessly to tackle the issue of unemployment and job losses.

The latest unemployment rate for the first quarter of 2016 means that 5.7-million people out 36.4-million of South Africa’s working age were without a job during the first four months of the year. People without jobs in this country outnumber the entire population of countries such as Finland (5.5-million), New Zealand (4.5-million) and Norway (5.2-million).

South Africa remains one of the most ‘unequal’ societies in the world and what these unemployment figures show is that 23 years later after the advent of democracy and the African National Congress coming into power, many people still struggle to make ends meet or afford a decent living. The unemployment figures are not a “good story to tell”.

A country of two nations 
It was in 1998, when former president Thabo Mbeki delivered his two nations speech, that he argued that South Africa’s inequality has resulted in people living within two separate economies. Mbeki said “…South Africa is a country of two nations. One of these is white, relatively prosperous… all members of this nation have the possibility to exercise their right to equal opportunity… the second and larger nation is black and poor, with the worst affected being women in the rural areas… and the disabled.” And 18 years later, with these latest unemployment figures being the highest ever recorded since 2008, it seems those two nations still exist, only now it is no longer exclusively white, it features well-connected black business people and many of the country’s politicians.

Two years ago, Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) warned against the dangers of rising youth unemployment in the country, calling it “a ticking time bomb”. At the time, Stats SA’s figures suggested that six in 10 young people under the age of 25 were unable to find a job.

Zwelinzima Vavi, who was general secretary of Cosatu at the time, said that the high rate of youth unemployment may spark a rebellion similar to the 16 June 1976 uprising. Cosatu viewed unemployment as a national crisis that government is unable to deal with.

Concern is not enough
The levels of unemployment are seen by many experts as creating political and social instability, as a result contributing to the high level of service delivery protests as people vent their frustrating and anger.

It does not help for government to be “very concerned” but not come up with workable solutions. In trying to deal with unemployment, the ANC-led government has implemented various job creation programmes such as the inter-Ministerial committee on public employment programmes (PEP-IMC) which aims to create 6-million “work opportunities” by 2019, for those who can’t find jobs. The problem with work opportunities is that they don’t guarantee long term employment or what the unions would call “decent work”.

With the local elections around the corner, opposition parties have already taken advantage of these high levels of unemployment by putting ‘jobs’ at heart of their election manifestos. The main opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA) promises to create jobs by attracting and supporting news small business, while the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) talk about creating jobs through direct service delivery to the people, by making sure that 50% of basic goods, services and products consumed by a municipality are manufactured within its borders.

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