Pretoria - South African unemployment fell in the last quarter of 2012, a survey showed on Tuesday, though the threat of job losses in the mining sector still remains.

The jobless rate declined to 24.9 percent of the labour force in the fourth quarter from 25.5 percent in the previous quarter, Statistics South Africa said in its Quarterly Labour Force Survey.

This amounted to 4.5 million people without work in the fourth quarter, down from 4.67 million jobless in the previous three months, the agency said.

The expanded definition of unemployment, which includes people who have stopped looking for work, was at 35.9 percent from 36.3 percent previously.

A wave of wildcat strikes in the platinum and gold mining sectors that began in August did not translate into a higher unemployment rate, Statistics South Africa said.

“Despite the strikes observed in the mining industry in the recent past, no job losses were observed in the industry in the fourth quarter,” the agency said in a statement. “However, there was a sharp increase in temporary absence from work.”

But the fallout from the violent wage protests, in which more than 50 people were killed, still poses a threat to Africa's biggest economy.

Anglo American Platinum, the world's largest producer of the precious metal, recently announced plans to mothball two South African mines and sell another, leading to a possible 14,000 job cuts.

South Africa's jobless rate has been stuck at around 25 percent for years, and did not dip appreciably even when the economy was growing strongly in the years leading up to a 2008/09 recession.

The ruling African National Congress has made employment a top priority, and unveiled a big infrastructure development plan a year ago that it says should create millions of jobs.

But an unskilled labour force could be the biggest barrier to reducing unemployment significantly, said Kefiloe Masiteng, head of population statistics at Stats S.A.

“Even if jobs can be created, you have a labour force that is not skilled,” Masiteng said. “Options are that they will continue to look for work but they might be marginalised by the labour force and never make it into the labour force.”

Of the 4.5 million people without work in the final quarter of 2012, nearly 70 percent have been looking for work for a year or more, the agency said.

Nearly two thirds had not finished high school and 42 percent had never worked. - Reuters