by Lindani Dhlamini

Unemployment could destabilise South African economy

Youth Unemployment is a pressing social and economic challenge

Over 25% of youths are unemployed
youth work.jpg

According to the most recent figures released by Statistics SA, the official unemployment rate during the third quarter of last year remained exceptionally high. It revealed that 25.3% of the population, aged between 15 and 64, is unemployed.

The expanded unemployment rate, which includes discouraged job seekers and people who’ve never been able to find a job, was 35.9% for the same period. This is in stark contrast with our major trading partners, with other BRICSA countries and even with other developing economies around the world. 

The highest level of unemployment in South Africa is amongst young people, with 50.9% of individuals aged between 15 and 24 not being gainfully employed. More specifically, 3.3 million of the 10.4 million people in this age group are neither employed nor engaged in any form of education or training. 

Unemployment and, in particular, youth unemployment, is not only one of our most pressing social and economic challenges, but also a major obstacle to transformation, growth and development. When one half of a county’s youth is unemployed, prospects for the future look grim.

On a macro level, global economic instability is obviously having a serious impact on developing and mixed economies, and South Africa is no exception. However, there can be no denying the fact that social and political factors at home also have a major role to play. Recent labour unrest, unrelenting violent crime and accusations of police brutality have made headlines around the world, and South Africa’s reputation for being a violent, unstable and fractured country is becoming increasingly entrenched.

This is leading, not only to skills and capital flight, but to a drop-off in direct foreign investment, without which we simply can’t hope to achieve our development goals as a nation. This is further being exacerbated by the drop-off in the value of the rand after recent events, which is having a real and immediate effect on our balance of payments.  

We need to acknowledge that there are no easy fixes, and that everyone has to be part of the solution. Government, of course, has an urgent responsibility to address unemployment in general and youth unemployment in particular. However, that responsibility extends to businesses and individuals too. Only a collective effort will make a difference.

Businesses, for example, need to be more proactive about finding ways in which to work with government to develop skills amongst the country’s youth. They also need to make a collaborative effort in order to create new job opportunities and to support the creation of a vibrant small and medium enterprise sector. This shouldn’t be seen as altruism, for it is essential to securing not only social and economic stability, but also the very markets on which business depends.

As importantly, we as South Africans need to look at the individual responsibility we have for finding and creating work, and for securing success in our working lives. The unspoken and uncomfortable truth is that a culture of entitlement is alive and well in South Africa, and that many young people want both jobs and advancement delivered to them on a platter. In some ways, this is a uniquely South African phenomenon, for young people in countries from the US to China recognise that personal effort, hard work and dedication are the only sure path to a secure and successful working life.

This seems to indicate a serious disconnection between what 'youngsters' want out of their jobs and what they’re prepared to put into them, and shows a very real lack of understanding about how the labour market works.   

In short, structural programmes - whether initiated by government, business or NGOs - can only go so far. They can provide a context in which success can take place, but it is up to the individual to seize the opportunities that present themselves and to foster success for themselves. If young people don’t acknowledge their own responsibility for creating opportunities for themselves, and for making a success of their working lives, official solutions to South Africa’s youth unemployment will remain, at best, only partially effective.  


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Issue 58