South Africa


Ramaphosa government’s deafening silence on unemployment crisis

Ramaphosa government’s deafening silence on unemployment crisis
Youth activist NPOs including the Melisizwe Mandela Foundation and Citizens Action Campaign protest during the National Unemployment Campaign March on 24 June 2021 in Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / Laird Forbes)

There can be no doubt that our massive unemployment, and particularly the fact that more than 70% of our young people are unemployed, is South Africa’s key long-term challenge and threat. However, there are few signs that the government is breaking much sweat in trying to solve this existential problem.

While South Africa faces a multitude of problems, it is important to identify the most important issues and then assess how successful the government and other roleplayers in our society are in resolving them. 

The apparent lack of resolve to solve the country’s unemployment crisis is going to have huge consequences for our society – after the pandemic, it must surely be the most important threat we’re facing. As others have said, such is the scale and importance of our unemployment, that if we do not solve this problem it doesn’t matter if any other problems are solved.

Last week, Statistics South Africa published data revealing that our official unemployment numbers are at their highest ever – officially, 34.9% of our adults cannot find work.

Economic horror show: South Africa’s unemployment rate hits new record of 34.9%

But that belies the real number, which is of course much higher. While statisticians can discuss the “unemployed”, the “expanded definition of unemployment” and “discouraged jobseekers”, in reality it appears that we have at least 12 million people who are not able to find work. And it’s probably higher even than that.

These are people who may be destined to live lives far below their potential, lives of low incomes (if at all), relying on social grants, with all of the consequences which follow. It is a criminal and immoral situation in which a large part of our people languish.

From what can be ascertained, the response of the government to these figures has been mostly silence.

The Government Communication and Information System website does not contain a single statement about last week’s figures, despite finding space to mention a webinar about “Strengthening the regulation of media for gender diversity”.

The Presidency does not appear to mention it either. But there are several statements about President Cyril Ramaphosa’s visit to west Africa. 

There is nothing either on the Treasury website.

The Ministry of Employment and Labour does not mention it either and there appears to be no official statement from that department on its website.

The Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi, last week made a submission to the International Labour Organization convention dealing with violence and harassment in the workplace, but no mention of the data from Statistics South Africa.

There is plenty of precedent for this silence from the government and from the ANC. While admitting that this is the biggest long-term problem we face as a society, there is little comment made in public on the matter.

In the past, Nxesi has indicated that he is aware of how serious this is. In an interview with Newzroom Afrika two months ago he said that, “The most fundamental issue facing us is this issue of unemployment… the main issue that it is a structural one linked to the issue of skills.”

He also explained that, “We are the ministry which is not creating jobs, but which is responsible for creating policy in order to be able to create jobs… Jobs are going to be created by the private sector in the main…”  

Nxesi went on to say that if the government’s programmes to increase localisation and sort out “the energy space are vigorously implemented…” then we will create jobs.

But despite his admission that this is “the most fundamental issue facing us”, there appears to have been no comment made by him last week.

There is precedent for this. In the past, despite anxious interviews about unemployment on TV and radio stations from unionists, economists and concerned role-players, the government and the ANC have been almost silent, despite the fact they have views on many other issues in our society.

Contrast this silence with the commentary from people on different sides of the economic spectrum. SA Federation of Trade Unions General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi regularly warns of how this situation is unsustainable; the Centre for Development and Enterprises’ Ann Bernstein labelled last week’s number as “catastrophic”.

This may well be a reflection of what appears to be the government’s impotence on this issue, where both the government and the ANC simply have no answers.

It is well known that the ANC appears unable to craft economic policy, and to create a policy which can lead to job creation.

Unfortunately, there is also important evidence that many of the dynamics which lead to this unemployment are the result of the ANC’s actions.

It was the ANC’s divisions and fights over digital terrestrial television that led to us being the last country in Africa to convert to digital TV. The consequence of this is that we still do not have affordable broadband internet access outside urban areas – the spectrum used by analogue television will now be used by cellphone companies to provide data services, and the delays have led to this spectrum being unavailable for this purpose.

The mining sector has been involved in disputes over mining charters for around a decade, arguments around “localisation” have ended up stuck in the mud and, generally speaking, it is hard to find any signs of progress.

There is also little evidence that Ramaphosa is determined to make much difference.

Much of the rhetoric about growing the economy includes claims that small businesses will provide employment. However, the person recently appointed as small business development minister has shown no track record of accomplishment.

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has said little about jobs in the recent past. She was moved to the position after being the minister of communications. There, she used her hand to block an SABC camera from recording images of an ANC conference, enjoyed lunch in defiance of lockdown regulations and presided over more delays in the allocation of spectrum.

How then did Ramaphosa decide that she is the correct person for this position?

There is now evidence that more jobs are likely to be lost

While the government has said several times that it will focus on building new infrastructure in an effort to create jobs and to help grow the economy, it appears unable to protect the infrastructure that we already have.

During the violence in KZN and Gauteng in July, shopping malls and other infrastructure were badly damaged. Malerato Mosiane, the chief director responsible for labour statistics at Statistics South Africa, has suggested on SAfm that there is a link between this violence and a loss in jobs. She says that Gauteng lost 200,000 jobs during this period, while KZN lost 135,000.

This last Friday there was another blockade on the N3 highway linking Gauteng to KZN. While law enforcement said they were on the scene early in the morning, the road was still blocked for at least another 12 hours.

The implications of blocking a major economic artery in this way are staggering. But so is the fact that a small group can consistently have a negative economic impact of this magnitude. The danger, of course, is that this can lead to a downward spiral.

Meanwhile, there are other indications that the government is not paying enough attention.

On Friday, a group of organisations representing businesses relying on traffic at the Lebombo border post with Mozambique, spoke about how problems at that border post affect their businesses. They called for the border post to be opened on a 24-hour basis, and explained how that would enable them to create jobs.

This was not the first time this call had been made. The same groups made the same call in September, three months ago, explaining how problems on the Mozambican side led to problems for them. As yet, it appears there is no public action by our government on this.

All of this points almost to disinterest on the part of those in government about unemployment. Perhaps it’s an acceptance that all involved have no idea of what to do. In which case, perhaps a moral argument could be made for them to leave the stage and allow those who do have ideas to try.

But for the moment, there appears to be no evidence of any concerted effort to create jobs or create an enabling environment for jobs.

Just crickets. DM

[hearken id=”daily-maverick/8881″]


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Rg Bolleurs says:

    That fact that we have the world’s highest unemployment is no accident. Instead, it tracks back perfectly to ANC policies and actions.

    The trouble is, these policies, acts and omissions ( like its fine to burn trucks on the N3, loot, etc) are so deeply ingrained in its psyche that to change them would strike at the very core of its being and would expose the actions of the past 27 years for what they really are: a massive mistake.

    And so we will press on with denial until?……. Until we collapse into a Zimbabwe, or boot out the ruling party and try again.

    But trying again is already off a low base. We have already de-industrialised and large segments of society need handouts to survive. It will take years to right the ship, and it’s unclear that we have enough time to do this.

    Meanwhile, every day the ANC remains in charge is just the waste of another opportunity and a deepening of the hole we have dug for ourselves.

  • John Laurence Laurence says:

    Very depressing how useless the ANC is.

  • Miles Japhet says:

    It takes a particular kind of courage to recognise ones failed ideology. This will ever happen.
    The ANC knows exactly what they are doing and believe that their actions are heroic. Break down the capitalist economy, drive out the moneyed, mainly non black classes, and then rebuild the country in the communist mould.
    To accept that non black South Africans are a great asset and a major part, at least in the medium term, of the solution to unemployment is a bridge too far for the ANC. Tragic for the poor!

  • Peter Doble says:

    While all narrators huff and puff, decrying anarchy and violence, put yourself in the rioters’ shoes – what else do they have? No hope, no leadership, no plan, no future just more of the same incompetent, inactive, self-enriching politicians which, by Stephen Grootes’ recent electoral analysis, will carry on for an indeterminate future.
    SA has not just lost its moral compass – it has thrown it away in contempt. No wonder the rest of the world treats it with disdain.

  • James McQueQue says:

    It is a sad state of affairs when the corruption-tainted Zuma administration outperformed this current lot in many respects. Maybe cadres need corruption incentives to perform like the rest of Africa, KZN etc?

    Has Ramaphosa’s government run out of money?

    • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

      jz just continued with anc policy, but on a grander scale than any of his predecessors. Employing thousand in government and paying exceptionally high salaries for incompetents, free education, hollowing out all SOEs, the list can go on and on and …… and the cr just seems to continue on the same path to nowhere.

    • Sam Joubs says:

      No, they have run out of T-shirts and KFC vouchers.

  • Mark Hammick says:

    The unemployment of the youth is a direct consequence of the ANC’s policies of dumbing down education, its inability to encourage those with suitable and appropriate education and skills to remain , and its pursuit of failed economic policies like Black Elite Embezzlement.

  • Roger Etkind says:

    It’s not just that the ANC government is unable “to create a policy which can lead to job creation”, as the article says. It is that they are deliberately, and against all current international trends, implementing a policy that will increase unemployment. The austerity budgets of Mboweni and now ex-leader of South Africa’s biggest trade union, Godongwana, will substantially cut jobs in the public sector. Teachers, nurses, police – they will all lose jobs as a result of the current economic policy and budget. When they lose jobs, their collapsed buying power will mean that workers in the private sector will also lose jobs. 150 economists wrote to Tito to tell him he’s on the wrong track. But do they listen? Not a chance.

    • Karl Sittlinger says:

      Well…the public sector has been overpaid, overstaffed and in quite few cases corrupt for a long long time, even while the ANC was warned this is unsustainable. A cut in public sector jobs is quite necessary due to 20 years of cadre deployment…

  • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

    “Perhaps it’s an acceptance that all involved have no idea of what to do.” – It is not a case of ‘perhaps’ this is without doubt most definitely the case.
    “In which case, perhaps a moral argument could be made for them to leave the stage and allow those who do have ideas to try.” – And that will not be allowed to happen. What about AA and BEE and deployee cadres feeding at the trough and how will the anc continue to control the lives of ‘the people’ if they have jobs and don’t depend on social grants?!?

  • Irrespective of the theft by and skulduggery of the comrades having political power, the simple fact is that heedless breeding caused a population explosion aided, abetted and encouraged by the payment of child grants. This is the crux of the unemployment rate – children grow up and expect a job to be offered to them. If people are not made responsible for the repercussions of this heedless breeding they will always feel that someone else must be made liable for the housing, education, medication, social grants and now even university education for their progeny and that someone must create jobs for them… Even first world economies with huge numbers of tax payers would struggle to cope with the cost of raising so many millions of children never mind a country such as ours with a tiny tax base. Business all over the world wants to employ fewer, more efficient people, not more people simply to create employment . The same applies to us being the highest AIDS infected population in the world … time to teach our citizens to keep their broekies on or use a condom … this would instantly solve SO many problems… simple solution to the problem of too many people expecting too much from tax payers and a solution to the huge AIDs infection rate. No other country in Africa dishes out to its citizens what we do – time to behave like grown ups and take responsibility for the consequences of your actions …

  • Ian McGill says:

    The ANC are stuck with soviet style mindset. They see business as fundamentally evil capitalism that must be tamed . And being a bunch of racist crooks does not attract foreign investment , unless of course it’s the Gupta type. They are about to “debate” EWC and sign the racist “equity bill” to further deter investment. This circus has a surfeit of clowns.

  • Philip Mirkin says:

    There are a lot of people with a lot of money still in SA. The question is why are they not investing in new or existing businesses? They can’t invest because they have no guarantee that land won’t be nationalised, leading to massive problems with our currency and banking loans. They have no guarantee that the infrastructure needed will be maintained. They have no guarantee that strikes and other disturbances will not destroy everything that they build.
    If we want more jobs we need business confidence with freedom to do what works best, and with trained staff, maintained infrastructure and legalised protection. Surely all South Africans can see this by now. We may never be a country with full equality and wealth, but we can still be happy, well nourished, productive and grateful.

  • Michael Settas says:

    The ‘deafening silence’ referenced in the headline is a direct result of the intellectual bankruptcy of the ANC. It does not take rocket science to work out what are even modestly good policies versus utterly disastrous policies such as EWC, the new EE Bill, tightening of already rigid labour laws, furthering BEE restrictions, national health insurance, a localisation policy, and the ever present desire to grow the ‘developmental state’ (a misnomer if ever there was one). Every one of these policies is economically extractive in nature, almost all redistributive , and thus are anti-growth – who can possibly be surprised at the unemployment figures? Or that the government is running out of money? The only positive to take from this sad situation, is that usually such heavy economic burdens result in a change of governing party, so hopefully SA can be rid of the disaster zone called the ANC before it completely ruins this country.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    The sooner we admit that there is total lack of leadership, the better. If we do not create a better future despite the government, the country is doomed. The present situation is also a demonstration for the lack of engagement by big business.

  • Memphis Belle says:

    The ANC is not a government. It’s a cabal of criminals who care only about protecting and nurturing their own criminals. Don’t look to Ramaphosa for help he’s part of this cabal and knows it.

  • Sandra Goldberg says:

    Everything the ANC touches turns to dust- the list is endless. Once thriving state owned enterprises are shadows of their former selves; state sponsored education is at pitiable levels, government hospitals, once centers of excellence, often cannot supply toilet paper or bedding to their patients; municipalities vie with each other for the worst administrators and the highest piles of refuse; manufacturing plants, once producing clothing, now lie disused and broken- the list is endless. It is obvious that the ANC will not, indeed cannot regenerate , and so it will be up to the citizens, civic institutions, NGOs and business, both large and small, to lead the regeneration of the country, one step at a time while the ANC seems paralyzed on the sidelines. If we have learnt anything from the July unrest , it is that the state is unwilling and incapable to meet out the required justice or remedies.

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