Frantz Fanon writes, “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity.”
As we move closer to the 8 May 2019 general elections, the sight of cupboards filled with essential groceries is a sight that still eludes many South African families. The high rate of unemployment and low economic growth as a result of a macroeconomic failure, in reality, translates to millions of South Africans sleeping with empty stomachs.
At every busy intersection throughout the Eastern Cape, one is likely to lock eyes with a man with a placard offering his readily-available labour. Mothers in the northern half of the province spend countless days finding transport to trade their metals in neighbouring KwaZulu-Natal.
South Africa’s unemployment rate is one of the highest in the world. It has been a cancerous fibre in the country’s DNA since the dawn of our democratic dispensation. Even during the Mbeki years when the economy was growing at a healthy rate, averaging 4% per annum, the rate of unemployment still hovered around 20%, with the extended definition (which includes even those who have given up looking for work) flirting with 30% and above.
Job creation finds expression in all the manifestos of every major South African political party as it is a national crisis that is a catalyst for two of the country’s biggest socio-economic challenges: poverty and inequality.
This is a result of the mono-crop nature of African economies, a phenomenon which can be attributed to the legacy of colonialism, where extractive economic activity is centralised in strategic regions while others serve as a pool for cheap labour.
In the context of the Eastern Cape, with major industrial activity saturated in cities like East London and Port Elizabeth which formed part of the Union of South Africa, the Transkei and Ciskei bantustans were the pool for cheap labour.
The landscape of South African townships such as New Brighton and Mdantsane has not changed much in the new democratic dispensation as they are still teeming with an oversupply of cheap labour, while in recent years, since the 2008 great recession, economic growth has stagnated.
The manufacturing and mining sectors which absorbed the lion’s share of the labour during the years of apartheid have become more mechanised and capital-intensive and less labour-intensive, leaving millions of South Africans outside of the job market.
Almost every South African politician has been sloganeering about the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a phenomenon that will tamper with the patterns of production.
The deliberate act to deskill black people by the apartheid government through rendering institutions such as Lovedale College and the University of Fort Hare to a state of decay will have even more dire repercussions in the 4IR.
The skillsets needed to thrive in a world of advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning differ fundamentally from the “hewers of wood and drawers of water” world black South Africans were conditioned for by the Bantu Education and the disastrous Outcomes Based Education (OBE) system.
That has led to mismatches between the skills distribution in the country and the skills distribution that is needed by the economy in order for it to thrive and eradicate joblessness.
As much as our historical background can be singled out as the major cause of the employment crisis that we find ourselves in right now, it is not the only factor that has kept millions of labour-active South Africans languishing in the roadside sun.
The countries in the world with the lowest unemployment rates are those which have swelled their secondary sectors, but under the ANC government, we have seen industrial complexes such as the one in Dimbaza closing down.
In recent years, we have seen shopping centres mushrooming in the townships rather than factories that will curb the unemployment rate.
As we head to voting stations on 8 May 2019, paraphrasing the words of Frantz Fanon, our mission as the youth of today is to find our mission. I define the mission of today as that of creating employment and eradicating poverty, and through the power of the ballot, one will either fulfil it or betray it. DM
"Charms strike the sight but merit wins the soul." ~ Alexander Pope