OPINION: Whoever wins May 29 vote faces job creation challenges

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Do political parties really have a job-creating plan?

As South Africa prepares for the highly anticipated 2024 general election, all political parties promise an immediate solution to the country’s economic problems, particularly unemployment. It is becoming increasingly common for political parties to use the phrase “job creation” as a campaign slogan in order to lure millions of jobless people to vote for their parties. Thus far, these parties have not shown any tangible plan or strategy outlining how they intend to achieve job development. There is no vault where jobs are kept, ready to be unlocked whenever the right political party takes office. Political parties need to dig deep into their economic policy research and find effective job creation strategies. Frankly speaking, the election manifestos of political parties do not provide a meaningful solution to unemployment.

Is the Western Cape the province that holds the secret to job creation?

Looking at the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance pledges to create two million jobs. The party’s leader, John Steenhuisen, is convinced that his party can replicate its success in the Western Cape on a national scale.  According to recent data, the Western Cape has the lowest unemployment rate in South Africa (20.3%). The DA-led province has a labour force of 3.4 million, with 2.7 million employed and only 702 000 unemployed. Over the previous 10 years, the Western Cape has been the only province to maintain an unemployment rate significantly lower than the national official unemployment rate. This creates a positive picture for employment creation; however, is this the consequence of DA policies?

Runaway unemployment and unkept jobs promises

Despite frequent pledges of jobs by the government, President Cyril Ramaphosa stated during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2022 that the responsibility for creating jobs belonged to the private sector rather than the government. This appeared to be an attempt to abdicate the government’s responsibility for job creation. One may wonder what happened to the previous promises. President Ramaphosa unveiled a plan for economic recovery and reconstruction in October 2020.

At the time, the plan sought to create 3.4 million jobs over a ten year period by increasing the country’s economic growth to 3% each year. This was a divergence from the National Development Plan’s target of 5.4% economic growth. No other party has come close to making promises that are consistent with the NDP’s goals for lowering unemployment. The National Development Plan (NDP) aims to lower the unemployment rate from 27% in 2011 to 14% in 2020 and 6% in 2030.  To accomplish this, total employment needed to rise from 13 million to 24 million, or 11 million jobs, between 2012 and 2030. Currently. There are somewhat more than 16 million employed persons in the country.

Unemployment is persistently high

As we approach elections, a large number of young people have registered to vote in the expectation that the seventh administration of the democratic government will keep its promises regarding job creation. According to the Independent Electoral Commission, those aged 18 to 39 account for little more than 42% of the national voter roll. The official unemployment rate is at 32.1%, with 7.9 million people looking for work but unable to find it. It is disturbing to see the high rate of unemployment among young people. According to the country’s statistics agency, the crisis is causing havoc on young people aged 15-24 and 25-34, with unemployment rates of 59.4% and 39.0%, respectively.

Unemployment grew from 4.6 million in 2013 to 7.9 million in 2023, a 71.7% increase in the last decade. This indicates that official unemployment increased from 2 million to 7.9 million between 1995 and 2023, marking a staggering 295% increase in unemployed people. The reality is that the unemployment crisis predates the establishment of democracy and has been compounded by a stagnating economy that has expanded at a 0.8% annual rate since 2012.

So far, I have not heard any political party put out a sensible plan to stimulate the economy and achieve targeted growth rates. So, a monumental challenge exists for whichever party eventually wins on May 29; creating millions of jobs for a despondent population is no easy task.

Velemseni Mthiyane is a Specialist Researcher, Business & Economics