EDITORIAL: The margin for error is gone

“There is no margin for error,” said Eskom’s board executive chairperson Jabu Mabuza, after it reported a staggering set of losses this week. These words can just as easily be applied to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “New Dawn”, as it stares down a battered economy, hamstrung by a decade of corruption.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in this week’s jobs numbers. Leaping 1.8 percentage points to hit 29% in the second quarter, the unemployment rate is justifiably described as a crisis.

Going beyond the headline rate, the extent of the pain becomes deeply apparent.
The expanded definition — which includes discouraged work-seekers, or those who have given up seeking work altogether — is now at 38.5%. The majority of individuals (just under 72%) who are unemployed but struggle on in the search for work have done so for a year or more. Nearly two-thirds of young people, aged between 15 and 24, are unemployed.

Perhaps the most alarming figure is the level of young people who are not in employment, and not in any kind of education or training. They are described — in what must be the understatement of the year — as “disengaged” from both work and education. Some 32% of the country’s 10-million young people are at best unable to get a job, or any kind of education or training. At worst, this is over three million young people who are opting out of their future.

Yet, in the recent four-day meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee, at least two days were devoted to pernicious, factional point-scoring and talk of spies. ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte has said the party is aware of the effect that its internal battles are having on the economy. But its secretary general, Ace Magashule, downplayed this — laying the jobs woes on the vagaries of global forces.

That South Africa’s small, open economy is vulnerable to international developments is true. But when political leaders are using things such as the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank as a proxy war to stop real reforms or any material action that could generate growth, it destroys what internal economic resilience South Africa can build.

Look again, good leaders, at the number of “disengaged” young people. Your margin of error is gone.

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