This year has been disastrous for South African workers, with 2.2-million having lost their jobs in the second quarter of 2020. Those at the bottom of the food chain — the unskilled and disabled in particular — are hit the hardest, as is always the case.
The statistic mentioned above is even scarier when digging deeper. According to the National Income Dynamics Survey, a typical low-income South African employee supports not just themselves but also three members of their own and other households. This means that 2.2-million people losing their jobs between April and June this year translates affects least 8.8-million South Africans.
This situation is nothing short of a national catastrophe, even more so because no one has a clear idea of when things will improve, let alone normalise. There are too many variables, including the strong possibility of a potential second Covid-19 wave, a perpetually unstable global economy, poor gross domestic product performances among key import and export partners, and disrupted trade because of previous and current domestic and international lockdown measures.
Fortunately, South Africa doesn’t have to wait for the rest of the world to recover to start rebuilding our own economy and getting our people (back) into jobs. Everything we need to normalise our domestic status quo is here, right on our doorstep.
Think about it. South Africa is blessed with a strong and diverse private sector that is more than capable of satisfying the local demand for most primary products and goods, from food and textiles to household items, such as electrical products. We have a vast market too, 58-million consumers, to be exact.
All of this is amplified by a large working-age population that is ready and eager to work, learn new skills, and deploy their current and new abilities wherever they are needed. After confining at least 8.8-million South Africans to a situation of increased financial distress, our collective goal should be to get these and other people back at work.
This particularly applies to the so-called unemployable, the most vulnerable workers of all. Just because you have not gone to school, don’t have relevant skills or have a disability, doesn’t make you incapable of learning, excelling, and adding value to businesses and the overall economic prospects of the country.
Our company, Lesco Manufacturing, which predominantly employs men and women with disabilities, has been contributing to this effort since 1999. Our production of electrical parts stands at close to half-a-million units a month, and our clients are some of the biggest companies countrywide and on the continent.
However, growing local businesses to create local jobs, including jobs for the most marginalised workers, can only be done when all of us — consumers, retailers and distributors — band together to support local companies and suppliers instead of spending our money abroad.
Why would one buy and source light switches and T-shirts made in Chinese factories when these items are produced locally, with a shorter lead time, at competitive prices, and with more heart for people and the planet? Why source overseas products to fill your shelves, knowing they won’t keep South Africans in jobs, particularly those at the bottom of the food chain, nor create a more equitable economy where it is needed the most?
There is another crucial benefit to fostering a domestic market for local goods: it makes us more resilient as a market force. The world’s strongest economies are robust, and better able to bounce back from global crises, because they produce for both international and domestic demand.
These countries understand that having your eggs in domestic and overseas baskets helps to mitigate the economic implications of disruptions beyond one’s control, from the Covid-19 pandemic to events such as the global economic crisis 12 years ago. After all, should your global or regional basket break, you will still have domestic eggs left from which to hatch your chickens, allowing people to keep their jobs, instead of having them fall back into poverty.
Local is, therefore, not just lekker for local consumers, businesses, workers and the ethical compass of our country — it also makes sound economic sense.