Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke says unemployment rose marginally by about 5 percentage points from a decade ago, and 2 points from a year ago. Photo: Ntswe Mokoena/GCIS

JOHANNESBURG – Seasonal employment failed to dent the country's unemployment rate, which remained unchanged at 29.1 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.

Data from Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) yesterday showed that, for the first time since 2008, unemployment did not decrease in a season that is characterised by temporary jobs, particularly in the retail and agricultural sectors, during the quarter. 

South Africa has the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the world after Namibia (33.4 percent), Bosnia and Herzegovina (32.57 percent), and Angola (30.7 percent). 

Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke said unemployment increased marginally about 5 percentage points from a decade ago, and 2 percentage points from a year ago.

“As of this time that we are reporting on, a year ago unemployment rate was 27.1 percent and currently it is sitting at 29.1 percent,” Maluleke said. 

Economists have warned that unemployment was likely to remain at unsustainably high levels as long as economic growth continued to be less than 1 percent. 

Old Mutual chief economist Johann Els said the lack of economic growth was the single biggest issue behind rising unemployment. 

Els said South Africa had tried to get unemployment under control between 2004 and 2007, when the economy had annual average growth of more than 5 percent.

He said 2020 would be the sixth successive year that annual average economic growth would be less than 1 percent. 

“So nobody should be so surprised that unemployment is so bad and that there are no employment opportunities being created,” Els said. 

“In my mind, the single biggest issue in South Africa is lack of growth. It takes a long time of sustained higher economic growth to get unemployment under control. If we don’t take serious policy reforms to get growth going, unemployment is just going to stay where it is.”

StatsSA said the largest declines in employment were in manufacturing and trade, which recorded 39 000 and 159 000 job losses respectively.

There were about 20.4 million youth aged 15 to 34 in the quarter, with 40.1 percent of them not in employment, education or training.

Investec economist Lara Hodes concurred that subdued economic growth was behind the unemployment figures. 

“Weak economic growth… underpinned by structural inefficiencies and policy uncertainty, is driving the country's mounting unemployment crisis,” Hodes said.

StatsSA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey disclosed that the number of discouraged work-seekers increased by 62 000.

Those who were not active in the labour market for reasons other than discouragement increased by 45 000, resulting in a net increase of 107 000 in the number of those who were not economically active.

FNB senior economist Siphamandla Mkhwanazi said gross domestic product growth was expected to disappoint in 2020 relative to last year, primarily due to the acute energy supply crisis.