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Opinionista

Jobs and decent work in line with Nasrec remains the ANC’s top priority

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Jessie Duarte is the Deputy Secretary-General of the ANC. She writes in her personal capacity.

Unemployment is one of those topics high up on the agenda of any election campaign. For the ANC, it is no different. The release of the latest unemployment figures and the reported increase has certainly highlighted for the ANC, once again, the need to tackle the challenges of inequality and poverty often perpetuated through unemployment.

Yet it is also important to have perspective on these figures. While a number of studies have indicated the history of unemployment in South Africa, it is useful to bear in mind that it would seem unemployment presents itself as a challenge for our entire SADC region.

In Namibia, the unemployment rate is 34% while it is 20 and 24.5% in Botswana and Mozambique respectively. In both Lesotho and Swaziland, the rate is at 28%% and in Angola, despite the stable economic growth in that country for the last two decades, it is 26%. These are but to mention a few in our neighbourhood. Other major African economic heavyweights such as Nigeria has an unemployment rate of 18.8%, Egypt 11.3% while Kenya has one of the highest in the world at 42%.

One dares therefore to suggest that when attempting to tackle the unemployment question, in the myriad of manners possible, that the regional phenomenon be kept in mind and that ideally our governments should be working together in addressing this challenge.

The National Development Plan had set the target of ensuring that by 2030, employment in South Africa would have risen by 11-million jobs thereby increasing it from 13-million in 2010 to 24-million in 2030. At the same time, it fixed a goal of ensuring that the 24.9% unemployment rate, as was the case in June 2012, would be reduced to 14% by 2020 and eventually 6 % by 2030.

The plan had also indicated that the proportion of working adults should move from 41% to 61% whereas those adults working in the rural areas should rise from 29% to 40%. As a consequence, the plan also went on to enunciate that the labour force participation should rise from 54% to 65%. GDP should increase by 2.7 times in real terms which meant an annual GDP growth rate of 5.4%. This is if the global economy favoured such growth.

During last year therefore, in the lead up to its 54th National Conference, the ANC was acutely aware of these lofty goals set by the NDP and, now, the almost impossible task of meeting these targets. At its National Policy conference, in assessing the state of our economy, the ANC sought to understand the reasons why these targets were not near being met and consequently understood then that it was important that our economy be restructured in order to ensure that the unemployment situation was addressed.

For example, we identified the urgent need to launch a skills revolution for our young people given that their age group (25-35), according to the same latest unemployment statistics, has double the amount of unemployed persons than the age group 45-54 for example. This skills revolution must ensure that training and skills development are correctly situated in a new technology, innovation and the fourth industrial revolution paradigm.

The resolutions of the 54th National Conference also indicated that initiatives which encourage the placement of young people in employment opportunities that generate skills and experience must be accelerated. Again, as the statistics would indicate for example, more than a quarter of graduates, in the age category under 24 years old, are unemployed. In other words, a quarter of graduates under 24 are not getting jobs. It means that they are not appointed either due to lack of experience or exposure to opportunities.

At the same time, the Nasrec resolutions stated that “youth employment must be prioritised, including through effective public employment programmes, internships, job placement, youth set-asides, procurement from youth-owned enterprises and youth entrepreneurship programmes.”

With hindsight, the ANC could identify the critical role that infrastructure development played in the aftermath of the 2008/9 economic global recession. This is supported throughout history where often the injection of investment into infrastructure has helped to boost the economy again. In this respect, the ANC resolved to support infrastructure initiatives in particular which sought youth employment, localisation and Black industrialists.

The role of the National Youth Development Agency also came under the spotlight and in this respect specifically it was decided that youth support must be incorporated as one of the areas on the government procurement scoreboard. However, already we must applaud the NYDA for championing the idea that for entry level positions experience should not be a requirement.

Yet there should be no doubt that one of the biggest drivers to reduce unemployment drastically would be small businesses, cooperatives and self-employment. The ANC resolved that government measures must be put in place to support these ventures across the economy and that concentration must be placed on township economies.

However, in a 2004 study, titled Unemployment in South Africa: The Nature of the Beast, published in the World Development journal, authors Geeta Kingdon and John Knight highlight the challenges of the unemployed to enter self-employment in South Africa.

Their study found that it was not as easy as simply entering the informal sector in South Africa, in any industry one would assume, simply because of the barriers that existed for new entrants. The lack of access to capital, albeit in small amounts, is also often an obvious but major stumbling block. These two authors, making reference to other scholars, point out that the informal sector is often “highly stratified, requiring skills, experience and contacts”.

Kingdon and Knight point out that historically informal activities in South Africa were frowned upon, especially if done by black South Africans, and that often legislation and by-laws such as harsh or intricate licensing, strict zoning, among others, often caused the disruption in these informal economic activities. Informal traders and entrepreneurs suffer the most under the criminal, violent and other ill-behaviour of these areas. Many of these continue to this day.

The old adage is worth repeating: it is not the responsibility of the state to create jobs but rather to create the ideal conditions for business to create such jobs. Therefore, as the ANC led government in Gauteng is doing, the ANC has found it necessary to intervene and support the township economy. Even more so, we must assist our people in creating conditions that will enable viable and sustaining ventures, even if it means that we re-look at legislation and by-laws that hamper economic activity.

The NDP, like our 54th National Conference resolutions, is a living document. We will adapt it and improve as we go along. However, what is important is that we have a plan and that we are aware of the needs of our communities. The ANC, with the wisdom of 25 years in government, knows what to do and which spikes in the wheel needs fixing in order for it to move faster. South Africans should know that it is only with the ANC as a government that we can make South Africa work. DM

Jessie Duarte is Deputy Secretary General of the ANC

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