The latest official unemployment rate of 34.8% confirms that 7.8 million South Africans are without jobs, while various reports suggest that almost two out of every three individuals in the 18-34 age group are unemployed and unlikely to ever find regular work.
When the official unemployment rate is expanded to those who have given up looking for work, then the true unemployment rate is 44% or a massive 9.8 million citizens.
Put into context, the total number of unemployed South Africans could fill Soccer City in Johannesburg 100 times over, or if they stood in single file along the N1 from Cape Town to Johannesburg with the mandatory 2m Covid spacing, then the jobless could form 13 separate lines between these two major economic centres.
The scale of the unemployment crisis is so critical that solutions to provide alleviation for what warrants a declaration of a national State of Emergency should be a key focus for any competent government.
Unfortunately, the inconvenient truths are that our government lacks competence and the problem of our unemployed is intractable because the majority are unskilled as a result of an education system which has left them functionally illiterate and innumerate and therefore unemployable.
Confronting the smoke and mirrors ‘job creation’ claims
Economists and politicians’ default setting with respect to unemployment is their smoke and mirrors claim of job creation and how a growing economy will absorb the unemployed.
To be quite clear, there is no such thing as “job creation”, because jobs in the private sector are never created. Rather, consistent and practical economic policy provides the enabling environment for a growing economy, resulting in increased demand for goods and services which, depending on the level of automation in the specific sector, may lead to limited new job opportunities.
These job opportunities only become relevant if those who are unemployed have the necessary skills to match the opportunities, and in the context of South Africa there is a total mismatch.
Employers who have frequent exposure to unskilled citizens fully comprehend the massive disadvantages the majority of unemployed face and their practical experience at the employment coalface confirms how unhinged the assumptions of economists and politicians are with respect to pie in the sky notions of job creation.
The premise of job creation is a false one and the absence of any meaningful skills in the vast majority of unemployed South Africans means that there is little or no opportunity for employment, even in the unlikely event that our economy were to grow exponentially.
Accepting the realities
While apartheid South Africa consigned the majority to sub-standard education by setting the bar as low as possible, the ANC, since 1994 has gone one better by removing the education bar altogether and in doing so, the government is consigning tens of millions of citizens to a future life not dissimilar to that of economic slavery.
The promise of a better life for all continues to ring hollow as almost a million young people exit a failed educational system each year, whereas the benefit of teaching excellence should be their constitutional right.
Based on my experiences and interactions with blue-collar workers over the last 25 years and who typically become the first victims of recession and unemployment, it is apparent that the education they have received, notwithstanding their Grade 10, 11 or even matric certificates, does not equate in practical terms to the education and lived experiences enjoyed by a child in Grade 6 at a former Model C or private school.
Their limited knowledge of all the units of measure and the absence of an understanding of elementary arithmetic place them at a massive disadvantage. This is exacerbated by a lack of comprehension of either the written or spoken word brought about by the absence of any educational rigour in their schooling which is afforded to middle-class children and is best illustrated by those hated comprehension tests which eventually stand middle-class children in good stead for employment in later life.
It is important to note that the majority of the unemployed have in all probability also grown up in a family environment where they have never experienced a “normal situation” where their parents and siblings of working age enjoy full-time employment.
Unlike the middle class, who can access services from the private sector, the vast majority of unemployed are reliant on a dysfunctional government and its agencies where every touchpoint for them is sub-standard. In townships, they are reliant upon a chaotic SA Police Service for security, exposed to a pathetic educational system, dependent on misfiring government hospitals (the exception being the well-run Western Cape government hospitals), and receive unacceptable housing and ancillary services.
The net effect is that they are consistently exposed to dysfunction and mediocrity and never experience anything exceptional in their lives that would serve as the catalyst to not only dream but to also empower them to live out those dreams.
The township education system has and will continue to consign millions to a destiny of a life of unemployment or at best, hard manual labour, and Covid has provided a wonderful excuse for the government to further abdicate its responsibilities to millions more learners whose education over the last two years has become even more diabolical.
In grasping the stinging nettle, it must be accepted that the vast majority of unemployed will remain unemployed for the reasons outlined above and if quality primary and secondary education is not provided, then 10 years from now, South Africa will have 20 million and not just 10 million unemployable citizens.
One achievable solution for the majority of the current cohort of unemployed to gain some form of employment is a basic income grant whose payment is linked to their participation in purpose-driven labour-intensive public works programmes within affected communities whose initial focus is aimed at improving living conditions and which can be expanded upon at a later stage.
The other solution requires that the government accepts that it has neither the capacity nor the competence to provide quality education to the masses and that all the complex moving parts of education be handed over to the private sector to execute on behalf of the government.
The above will no doubt be anathema to the ANC apparatchiks as it will require an unreserved admission of failure and their acceptance of a new path to be charted which is diametrically opposed to their statist dogma.
Rather, the ANC will continue to preside over the dumbing down of future generations while continuing to feed the unemployed a diet of lies which began in 2009 when Jacob Zuma and Trevor Manuel promised to create 500,000 new jobs in six months and halve unemployment and poverty by 2014.
Why is it that throughout the history of South Africa, politicians have consistently chosen the low road instead of capitalising on our rich human and natural resources so that a better life for all can be realised? DM