Ticking time bomb: SA’s unemployment rate in the spotlight

South Africa has the highest unemployment rate in the world. Picture: Ron Lach/Pexels

South Africa has the highest unemployment rate in the world. Picture: Ron Lach/Pexels

Published Aug 15, 2023


South Africa’s high level of unemployment is a “ticking time bomb” and all eyes will be on today’s labour force survey results to see whether it is any closer to detonating.

Statistics SA data revealed the country’s unemployment rate to be 32,9% in the first three months of 2023 – a 0,2% increase from the quarter before, with 3,7 million young people not in employment, education, or training.

South Africa’s unemployment rate is the highest in the world.

This increase in Q1: 2023 followed four quarterly decreases in unemployment since the fourth quarter of 2021, when the rate reached a high of 35,3%; so today’s official update will start painting a picture of whether that increase was just a spike or the start of a rising trend.

  • Q4: 2021 – 35,3%
  • Q1: 2022 – 34,5%
  • Q2: 2022 – 33,9%
  • Q3: 2022 – 32,9%
  • Q4: 2022 – 32,7%
  • Q1: 2023 – 32,9%

The South Africa National Human Development Report 2022, recently released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), states that the long legacy of colonial and apartheid structures continues to cast its dark shadow on South Africa’s progress and development, and that unemployment among the country’s youth is particularly concerning.

Dr Ayodele Odusola, the UNDP’s resident representative in South Africa, says youth unemployment is a multipronged challenge that limits the earning potential of youth, stymies business growth, threatens social cohesion, and puts pressure on public resources.

“There is no doubt that the high unemployment rate is a ticking time bomb. Accordingly, in addressing youth unemployment, the country will simultaneously be addressing poverty and income inequality. Addressing and tackling youth joblessness is, therefore not only sound economics but also a development imperative.”

Deputy President Paul Mashatile says the report does not shy away from the “significant” developmental challenges South Africa has yet to resolve, despite the passage of 28 years since the establishment of democracy.

“Youth unemployment and marginalisation from the economy is still a significant reality for too many of our young people...

“The report highlights the major role of education and skills in addressing this reality. The message is clear: too many of South Africa’s youth do not get the right educational foundations to prepare them for the job market, a fact that is compounded by lack of opportunities for skills acquisition and upgrading.”

He also commends the report for highlighting “many other critical issues that deserve our attention and an honest national conversation”.

“One such issue is the need to prepare our youth for the changing world of work, increasingly defined by the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (41R) and the pre-eminence of technology and digitisation.”

These issues and many other factors canvassed in the report should, he hopes, trigger the necessary policy actions that can help the country “stem the tide of youth unemployment and avoid the possible loss of an entire generation”.

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