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South Africa’s unemployment rate edges up to 32.9% just before 29 May polls

South Africa’s unemployment rate edges up to 32.9% just before 29 May polls
Unemployed graduates from KwaZulu-Natal and Pretoria march on the Union Buildings to hand over a memorandum to officials demanding that the government find solutions to rising unemployment. (Photo: Phill Magakoe / Gallo Images)

South Africa’s jobless rate increased by 0.8 of a percentage point between the fourth quarter of last year and the first quarter of 2024.

The data, revealed by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) on Tuesday, 14 May, is the last Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) before the 29 May polls. South Africa’s unemployment rate rose to 32.9% in the first quarter of 2024, according to Stats SA. 

This showed an increase by 0.8 of a percentage point from 32.1% in the fourth quarter of 2023.

Jobs have emerged as one of the big hot-button issues of the 2024 elections, trumping 2019 electioneering touchpoints like gender-based violence and land expropriation. This is a blow to the ruling party, which would have been hoping for more positive figures to share with voters so close to the 29 May polls. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024 – All your questions answered

The first three months of this year have been marked by a period of substantially less load shedding compared with the same period last year. Two weeks before South Africa’s general elections, the lights are on. The country has now had 49 consecutive days without load shedding, the longest streak in more than a year. See The Outlier here

However, the power streak seems to have had little effect on South Africa’s jobless rate. 

unemployment load shedding

Vehicles travel along a darkened street without lighting during a power outage in central Johannesburg on 13 February, 2023. (Photo: Leon Sadiki / Bloomberg)

In a presentation accompanying the data, Stats SA said the number of unemployed people had ballooned to 8.2 million in Q1 of 2024, from 7.9 million in Q4 of 2023. This means more than 300,000 became unemployed between the fourth quarter of 2023 and the first quarter of 2024.  

The number of people fortunate enough to have a job remains 16.7 million in Q1 of 2024. But that is out of a working-age population (between the ages of 15 and 64) of 41.2 million. The labour force itself stands at 25 million, with 16.2 million regarded as “not economically active”.

South Africa’s fragile economy narrowly avoided a technical recession in the last three months of 2023 – a period plagued by unrelenting Eskom load shedding. It underscored how rolling blackouts undermine the economy and its potential growth. 

In the fourth quarter of 2023, the country’s unemployment rate increased to 32.1%. After employment increased for eight consecutive quarters, the last three months of last year saw a net total of 22,000 jobs lost.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Economic crisis — SA unemployment rate edges up to 32.1% in Q4 2023

On Tuesday, Stats SA revealed the expanded unemployment rate – which includes discouraged job seekers – also increased by 0.8 percentage points to 41.9%, when comparing Q1 of 2024 and Q4 of 2023. 


Stats SA revealed the unemployment rate increased in all provinces between Q4 of 2023, and Q1 of 2024. (Photo: Tom Barrett / Unsplash)

Southern Africa, hunger

Hunger is linked to many societal challenges, chief among them being poverty and unemployment. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

North West recorded the highest expanded unemployment rate in Q1 of 2024 at 53.6%. Read Daily Maverick reporters Rebecca Davis and Victoria O’Regan’s report on the forgotten North West town of Pomfret here

The Eastern Cape recorded the second-highest expanded unemployment rate in Q1 of 2024 at 49.1%, followed by Limpopo at 47.8%. 

Importantly, Stats SA revealed the unemployment rate increased in all provinces between Q4 of 2023, and Q1 of 2024. 

While the unemployment rates in the Western Cape (21.4%) and KwaZulu-Natal (29.9%) have consistently been below the official unemployment rate in South Africa for the past 10 years, the Eastern Cape (42.4%) has continuously exceeded it.

A decade ago, 5.1 million people were unemployed in Q1 of 2014. That number is 8.2 million in Q1 of 2024.

In a statement, the ANC-affiliated union federation Cosatu described the latest statistics as a “sobering reminder” that the country could not sustain the current levels of joblessness.

“Whilst we are seeing critical progress on many fronts, from the massive decrease in load shedding, to the reduction in congestion at our ports, the reopening of various freight and commuter rail lines … much more remains to be done to unlock the economy and slash unemployment,” it said.

Youth unemployment

According to Stats SA’s QLFS, youth unemployment remains stubbornly high, with 59.7% of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 being unemployed.

“Youth unemployment is a national crisis, but none of the political parties currently contesting has made youth empowerment the core of their plans. We urgently need a coordinated plan that identifies the systemic challenges that drive the crisis,” said Kristal Duncan-Williams, Project Lead at Youth Capital, a campaign advocating policy change to solve unemployment. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Mike Hean says:

    Simple solutions. Stop BEE and threats to property ownership

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    The expanded unemployment rate of 42% paints the real picture, which is one of a population that’s deeply dependent on government grants, family (black tax) and menial subsistence activities. In this regard the Western Cape comes in at 26.1%, Gauteng the next best at 38.9%, followed by a procession of disastrous figures with North West at a staggering 53.6% at the bottom.

  • Scott Gordon says:

    The labour force itself stands at 25 million, with 16.2 million regarded as “not economically active”.
    So the tax base is around 9 million basically supporting 46 million ?
    What you get from ‘Common Prosperity ‘ a bye word for Xi .
    CR promised more jobs , just shed them !
    you get what you vote for .

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Thing is, most people don’t know the Stats, just experience what it means

  • James Baxter says:

    The problem with unemployment is a problem of ideas. Innovative ideas and stuff. If there’s one thing we as a country lack is innovative thinking. Look at USA, they are churning out billion dollar company like Apple, who gave us iPhone, because USA is based on innovation. They think outside the box, they emphasize that mantra always. Although they are a developed country that doesn’t allow citizens to open street trading operations, they have formal structure that encourages citizens to build smaller businesses. I never been to America, I wish to go there as a black man and build a successful business like Jeff Bezos, my hero, the best business guy since Elon Musk. But I don’t have the funds to go to America to build a Amazon 2.0, so I am not sure whether us government allow her citizens to build informal business. I am saying this because SA government is the most supportive environment for informal business, and such shows that our government is not a bad government, it just needs young people to come to the party and take this democracy to the next level like what Bezos and Musk are doing in the US. And what Steve Jobs and Bill Gates did before them. I know that I am saying this because it’s 4 am and I am safely tucked in my bed, but a bit of dreaming never killed anyone. When I invoke the term innovation, I do so to highlight the importance of being a leader in new ways of doing things. It’s hard at first but overtime things get even worse until you get stronger

  • Shaun Pastor says:

    BusinessTech reports that around 60% of 10111 call center positions are not filled. I cannot find an answer here but does any of the 19 call centers pay a decent salary to work there? I’m thinking that since those 500 odd police officers filling the positions is not working out why don’t unemployed people work there or do you need some varsity degree to answer a phone?

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