As South Africa slides into recession for the first time in eight years, analysts warn that the country’s growing unemployment, especially amongst the youth is a ticking time bomb.
According to figures published by Statistics South Africa two weeks ago, the unemployment rate increased to 27.7 percent in the first quarter of 2017 with youth unemployment at a staggering 38.6 percent, the highest unemployment rate recorded since 2003.
According to analysts, South Africa’s current recession was precipitated by weakness in consumer sectors such as wholesale, retail and accommodation.
The economic turmoil is piling pressure on President Jacob Zuma, who faces calls to step down from within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) as a string of corruption scandals, party infighting and sky-high unemployment erode public support ahead of elections in 2019.
The persistence of poverty and joblessness 23 years after the end of apartheid is also stoking anger, with unrest dubbed “service delivery protests” — taking place frequently.
Twenty-two-year old Thandeka Ngwenya completed high school four years ago.
Due to financial constraints, she was unable to pursue higher education, leaving her with no choice but to hunt for a job – with no success.
“I came here with a mentality of ‘I’m trying it out, anything that works I’m just gonna go with it just to get my foot in there. And I got here, we had an assessment that we had to do – it was quite interesting and very saddening having to see that it was a lot of us. I mean a group of young people and discouraging as well because you look at the group that is there and you’re thinking ‘what are the chances of me doing it,” she said.
As a last chance, Thandeka joined the Harambee Youth Employment Accelator, which provides training workshops and assessments that help young people with a high school certificate or tertiary qualification who cannot find jobs.
Thandeka said she hopes the exposure and experience she has received here will give her a foot in the door of the corporate world.
“I have no experience in the workplace, but what they exposing to me right now is the fact that it’s hard because it’s a difference environment but it’s not as bad as everybody else makes it to be. So the skills that I would take is; hard work, patience and to persevere,” she added.
Youth employment agencies like Harambee are stepping in to try and bridge the gap. Harambee, which began in 2011, says it has helped more than 35,000 young people find work.
“The biggest thing is that young people are desperate right, so and we find actually from our insights and analysis that our young people in this country are very optimistic. So they see very bright futures for themselves and that’s actually really a very encouraging thing. But when they get here, because of that optimism, we have to kind of manage a lot of expectations. We have to say to them, ‘We know that you want this, but there are specific spaces that you need to start. Which is
“We have to say to them, ‘We know that you want this, but there are specific spaces that you need to start. Which is effectively, you have to get your first stepping stone job – your first job is your university in some ways,” said Harambee’s head of operations, Mosuoe Sekonyela, added.
Unemployment among blacks, by far the largest population group among South Africa’s 55 million people, stands at over 30 percent, compared with just 7 percent for whites.
The ANC says it has made significant strides in delivering better housing, water and electricity to South African citizens with limited resources, and accuses the private sector of not pulling its weight in helping create jobs.
Analysts have however warned that South Africa’s unemployment will continue to worsen as long as the government relies on the private sector to create jobs.
The ANC party’s Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe said that young people cannot be picky when it comes to jobs during tough economic times.
“Dirty, difficult, dangerous jobs are not appealing. Agriculture is not appealing to the extent it should – it’s the only sector, with mining, that has done well. They are not the most attractive sectors for our young people. What we should be doing is to try to encourage our young people to get into a number of sectors and get the exposure and develop their interest,” he said.
South Africa’s economy is set to have expanded by only 0.4 percent in 2016, according to the Reserve Bank, which also estimates growth of 1.1 percent for 2017, well short of the government’s target of 5 percent annual growth.
The expanded definition of unemployment, which includes people who have stopped looking for work, also decreased, to 35.6 percent in the fourth quarter, from 36.3 percent in the previous quarter.