Statement: High levels of unemployment exacerbate existing disparities!

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The Assembly of the Unemployed (AoU) calls on the South African government to urgently invest in job-creating alternatives in order to address the unemployment crisis that has a chokehold on the country. According to Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey, more than 13 million South Africans are jobless which is the highest in the world. The figures released on Tuesday indicate that the number of unemployed persons in the first quarter of 2023 increased by 179 000 compared to Q4: 2022. 

Unemployed graduates march to the Union Buildings on November 06, 2018 in Pretoria. (Photo by Gallo Images/Phill Magakoe)

The survey paints a bleak picture, by revealing that over 13 million people are not economically active, a staggering figure that mirrors the country’s employment crisis. By investing in job-creating alternatives, the government can help reduce the unemployment rate and improve social and economic outcomes for individuals and communities.  

High levels of unemployment exacerbate existing disparities and create social divisions leading to negative social and economic consequences, such as increased poverty, crime rates, and social unrest just like we witnessed with the July 2021 riots. The government’s austerity agenda is also negatively impacting South Africans.

As AoU, we continue to call on the government to adopt potential job-creating alternatives that are available in addressing the unemployment crisis:

1: Invest in job-creating alternatives: Develop a low-carbon reindustrialization programme that can create millions of jobs aimed at addressing climate change. Here we can invest in public energy, public transport, housing, and transforming agriculture. This includes the production of socially owned renewable energy and the manufacturing of solar PV and wind infrastructure. 

2: Basic Income Grant: These staggering figures are an indication that there’s an urgent need for the introduction of a decent basic income grant of at least R1500 per month which should have been introduced long ago as a safety net for the poor who are grappling with the unemployment crisis. This will not only improve peoples’ standard of living and lift people from starvation but it can help to stimulate the local economy and improve productivity – which is where jobs are created. When more people have more money to spend, it can drive demand for goods and services and ultimately contribute to economic growth.

3: Government must become the employer of last resort: The government must employ everyone willing and able to work and pay them a living wage. There is lots of work to be done and people learn by doing.  The expanded public works can be the basis to do this, but it needs to be transformed and improved in terms of the working conditions. This means permanent employment at a living wage. 

This also means expanding the public sector as we need many more teachers, health care and municipal workers. The government must do away with the current trend of outsourcing the provision of local services to tenderpreneurs as it is one of the main drivers that leads to the inability of municipalities to create jobs. We call on the government to create and build the capacity of municipalities and stop outsourcing and tendering all essential projects. This can also help develop the skills and talent of the workforce. This can include training programs, apprenticeships, and other initiatives that help people gain new skills and experience that can be valuable in the job market.

4. Tax the rich: The government must implement a progressive net wealth tax of between 3 and 7%, Increase personal income tax rates on the rich, Stop profit shifting and wage evasion and use the surpluses of the government employees’ pension to invest in a re-industrialization programme. We believe that industrial sectors have the potential to create a significant number of jobs, including both skilled and unskilled positions. Employment losses were recorded in Mpumalanga, North West and Free State, re-industrialization can help address regional inequalities, reduce migration from rural to urban areas, and promote balanced development across the country. 

If the government fails to look at the alternatives, the jobs crisis will worsen which is why it is urgent for the government to take the drastic measures this crisis requires. The figures also indicate that there is an increase in time-related underemployment and young people experience underemployment at far higher rates than older persons. Sadly, the youth remain vulnerable in the labour market and are excluded from enjoying the fruits of our democracy. We call on the youth to unite and stand up against the current regime’s failures. We cannot continue with the rhetoric while we are sitting with a ticking time bomb. 


For more information contact:

Motsi Khokhoma, Botshabelo Unemployed Movement: 073 490 7623

Mooketsi Diba, Botshabelo Unemployed Movement: 073 217 9686