Women feel the pinch as unemployment rises

In a country where the number of economically-inactive people exceeds 15m, young black women are the most blighted by unemployment.
Those who are most negatively affected by unemployment in South African are young black women. Image: Moneyweb

There are 6.7 million unemployed people in South Africa, according to Statistics South Africa in its Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) report for the third quarter (Q3) of 2019.

This raises the official unemployment rate to 29.1% – the highest in 11 years – a national crisis.

Out of a labour force of 23.1 million, there are 15.5 million people who are not economically active. It is imperative that we give a human face to these numbers: black women are the most affected. They have the highest unemployment rate of all groups, and the knock-on effects leave young females who are not in education, employment or training (‘Neet’) as the most vulnerable in our society.

The government’s lack of capacity to enable a thriving business-friendly environment, coupled with private sector unwillingness to invest in an economy that is being held hostage by politics, has rendered young black African women defenceless.

Emerging problems

These latest figures by Stats SA lay bare the susceptibility of the country to problems such as the emergence of new social struggles, due to extreme poverty rising out of unemployment.

When more and more people are unable to find jobs, because the government lacks the capacity to deliver public services, create the opportunities people need and support an economy that is able to create and retain jobs, the wider consequence can easily be a people rising to undermine and even overthrow said government.

The perception that South Africa is above ‘other African countries’ is misleading and lulls the government into a false sense of certainty.

When progress becomes stuck and people are condemned to poverty, unemployment and inequality, it renders the state vulnerable to many illegal activities and possible civil uprising.

What the country needs is urgent structural transformation if it is to get out of the economic glut and confront unemployment.

Two crucial changes need to happen:

  • The absorption rate of the labour force into the economy needs to increase (structural change); and 
  • Simultaneously, technological skills and domestic sectors need to be upgraded, to bring them in line with those of developed economies (catch up).

The latter is pivotal because the globalised economy is undergoing significant transformation, as a result of the unfolding fourth industrial revolution.

Read: Why Mabuza struggled to define the 4th industrial revolution

However, these changes rest on government’s ability to face reality. We need realism, not idealism, when it comes to what policies can enable such transformation.

The government must, for example, move away from populist stances such as ‘economic nationalism’. Instead its focus must be on policies that will allow the private sector to invest, grow and develop by scaling and specialisation, in order to be internationally competitive.

Survival through competitiveness

This is especially important because the long-term survival of any job opportunity created is directly affected by that specific sector’s ability to compete globally.

Read: Signs the rules may start to work for – not against – small business

And it links to the need for a skilled labour force that can easily be absorbed into the changing economy. The ability of a South African sector such as agriculture or manufacturing to absorb labour, will be influenced by that sector’s ability to be competitive in the global labour market.

Government policies that create an environment for domestic firms to grow and attract more investment can help smaller companies and entrepreneurs to copy them (scalability), create jobs, and enable not only young black women but all workers, to reap the gains that arise from the developments that scale, growth and specialisation lead to.

Read: The South African disaster: No businesses for the unemployed 

In order for this to happen, government and policymakers must focus on locally- and not internationally-determined priorities.

Simple pragmatic steps that produce jobs and lift people out of poverty matter more than meeting sustainable development goals.

Hence, government’s priorities must be ‘How can we help the private sector to create jobs this quarter, this year, or in two years’ time’ and ‘What do we need to do? What pathways can we clear?’.

Responsible government

A responsible and forward-looking government can lift its citizens out of poverty and reduce the vulnerability of young black women.

Failure to upskill labour and potential workers has the same far-reaching effects as the failure of any sector to adapt to technological advancement if it is to be globally competitive. Neither can survive: a sector can collapse, while unskilled workers will become redundant and trapped in a circle of poverty and unemployment.

Urgent structural transformation is necessary if we are to get unemployed people into the labour market. Creating conducive conditions for the private sector to invest, grow, create jobs, and remain or become globally competitive is a no-brainer.

This will require leadership and a government that places reality and not populism at the heart of its policies, sets priorities and goals informed by local needs, and sets out to accomplish them within a set timeframe.

If this does not happen, South Africa risks becoming a fragile state – one that is exposed to shocks, both political and economic, regression and social unrest that is potentially susceptible to full-blown civil unrest.



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Potential entrepreneurs in SA will do anything to avoid having a large labour force and to keep their businesses small. The minute you employ multiple people, is the minute you run into the useless, militant, violent unions. When your business becomes large enough, you have to hand over shares to undeserving parasites due to empowerment legislation. Then we wonder why there are so many unemployed people.

It’s also frustratingly difficult to fire incompetent staff. Red tape from Dept of Labour makes the tasks cumbersome. Hell, the people can steal from you with evidence and it will still be a hassle.

The government needs to make it easy to do business (especially for SMME’s) with regards to labour laws: hiring/firing, minimum wage (scrapping thereof), and the ease of doing business with the state. Also, I’d look at lowering the tax rate for companies. But these are just my 2 cents.

The more we get the private sector to grow and flourish, the better it will be for SA as a whole (in my opinion).

I disagree with the writers 2 crucial changes

The absorption rate of the labour force into the economy needs to increase (structural change) should be replaced with proper and effective family planning to keep in tune with trends in the developed world (social change)


Simultaneously, technological skills and domestic sectors need to be upgraded, to bring them in line with those of developed economies (catch up) should be replaced with strong educational basis for all children in South Africa starting with primary education in line with those of developed economies (stay ahead of the curve)

The writer is trying to fix things too far up the chain.

A problem should be addressed at source and not merely addressed as a knee jerk reaction to a problem that has resulted by not addressing the issue at source.

It’s pointless replacing horses with motorised vehicles if your workforce only know how to look after horses.

The question I would like answered is why specifically women are more susceptible to being jobless? Then I’d also like to point out that asking government (who is the problem) to come up with a solution, is exactly the wrong move. Government should actually just stop trying to run the economy. They should rather make a point of getting out of the way, which will allow business (who can make things happen) to do their thing.

Unemployment is seen as a lack of formal sector, second world jobs.

That does not make sense in a country that is roughly 30% second world and 70% third world.

Government and our second world economists need to focus much more on informal sector jobs and making the rural and tribal areas much more productive. That is what Thailand has done and they have 6% unemployment.

Where is the clear property rights structure, agri co-ops for the rural areas and tourism initiatives?

End of comments.



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