OP-ED Opinions 

News24.com | Unemployment skyrockets but zero political will from national government

2019-05-16 17:58

It’s frightening to consider that, young people – especially black youth – stand a greater chance of going to prison than qualifying to become doctors or engineers or acquiring other skills desperately needed in our economy, writes Herman Mashaba.

To say I am
shocked at the recent unemployment statistics is an understatement. I am
disgusted!

How many more of
our fellow South Africans should we watch lose their jobs, and more
importantly, their ability to provide for their families before we realise that
our economy is broken and that we need to go back to the basics while also
trying out new things?

This week, Stats
SA
revealed that 237 000 more people lost their jobs in the first quarter of
2019 – the overall number of unemployed people stands at 6.2 million and there
doesn’t seem to be any reason on the horizon to be hopeful that this picture
will improve. The overall
picture of unemployment in South Africa is made worse when considering that
almost 3 million people have simply given up looking for work.

These are
discouraged work seekers who are ready, willing and able to work but have
thrown in the towel because of the scarcity of employment opportunities. Therefore, while
the unemployment rate is said to be 27.6%, the expanded definition actually puts
unemployment at 38%.

Even more
devastating about these figures is the fact that youth unemployment has risen
to 55.2%. Basically, half of
this country’s future has absolutely no future to look forward to. With such a high
rate of youth unemployment, I have to once again question the wisdom of leaving
our borders wide open, allowing an unnecessary competition for scarce, low
paying jobs.

While the figures
don’t say so, we can say with near certainty that the highest percentage of
unemployed youth are black.

It’s really
frightening to have to consider that, at this rate, young people – especially
black youth – stand a greater chance of going to prison than qualifying to
become doctors, engineers or acquiring any of the other skills sets so
desperately needed in our economy. 

No surprise young people didn’t vote

Looking at this
reality, I am not at all surprised that millions of young people did not bother
to register to vote
on May 8. And the outcome of the election does not bode
well for any prospects that those who are presently without jobs will see a
change in fortunes in the coming months and years. After all, the incoming
government has promised to create 1.3 million jobs over the next five years.

Really?

Should jobless
South Africans be excited at the prospect of an economy that is likely to
create only around 260 000 jobs a year, when all indications are that more
people will continue to fall into the unemployment trap?

It is really
unfortunate that a country like ours, blessed with boundless natural, financial
and human resources, has a youth unemployment rate so abnormally high. It goes
to show how much they have been failed by our democracy, and especially by our
national government.

And in case they did
not know this, the job of a government is to create a conducive environment
which allows businesses to thrive. If the incoming administration holds this to
be true, its leaders will ensure that SMMEs, not big businesses, are given
support and allowed space to create the many millions of jobs we need.

Unholy relationship between government and labour

However, South
Africa has been held back by an unhealthy, cosy relationship between government
and labour on one hand as well as government and big business on the other. Small
businesses and the unemployed have simply been ignored.

Arising out of
this unholy alliance is a situation in which big business keeps capable SMMEs
at bay – thus preventing competition and the creation of new jobs while government
is able to count on organised labour for votes and unions protect their members
at the expense of new entrants into the job market.

Added to this
toxic mix of patronage, massive job losses and unemployment is the breakdown of
the rule of law. The Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture has heard
some heartbreaking testimony of how the government – through our once
prosperous state-owned enterprises – was repurposed to serve the whims of the
Gupta family, the Zumas and the Magashules of this world as well as their sycophants
in the Cabinet and everywhere else.

All the while, South
Africa’s poor public education system continues to create a huge skills
mismatch by churning out learners who can’t read and write, and who will likely
be untrainable and frustrated. The intransigence of Sadtu – the largest
teachers’ union in the country and with whom the national government enjoys too
cosy a relationship – disables the basic education department from making much
needed interventions in the sector.

But where there is
political will, there is a way.

Joburg bringing economy back to life

The City of
Johannesburg operates in a highly regulated space, with absolutely no support
from provincial and national government, but we have shown that is possible to
revive an underperforming economy. Our Inner City Rejuvenation Programme is a
prime example of how the multi-party government is bringing Johannesburg’s
economy back to life.

The backdrop of
this ambitious undertaking is a city riddled with hijacked and abandoned
buildings – more than 500 of them have been identified since 2016. These
buildings will be offered to the private sector to be refurbished and turned
into low cost housing and desperately needed student accommodation for the
estimated 160 000 people on the City’s housing list.

Considering the
high inward migration experienced by the City, the need for housing, is
substantially higher. Indeed, through this program, we hope to give many of our
residents the dignity of a roof over their heads. Stories of students having to
sleep on the streets or in libraries because of the scarcity of accommodation
will hopefully also become less pronounced.

So far, 84
buildings have been offered to private developers – mostly small players in the
property development industry – and we expect to yield 6500 housing units while
realising R20bn in investment.

From this first
phase of the project, 11 000 direct jobs will be created. And there’s more.

A further 70
buildings will be released through open tender by September, yielding about
5000 housing units and realising an additional R15bn to R20bn in investment. Of
course, thousands more jobs will be created during and after construction. These
figures prove that we are creating sustained confidence in Johannesburg’s
economy and enticing investors to bring in huge sums of money again.

In the 2016/17
financial year the City achieved R4.5bn in facilitated investment. By the end
of the 2017/18 financial year, the City had facilitated investment worth R8.7bn.
This year, we are targeting R16 bn. As of February, our level of facilitated
investment stands at a record-breaking R12bn, very much on track to achieve R16bn
by June 2019.

What is most
exciting about our Inner City Rejuvenation Programme is the ripple effect it
will have on the construction sector, which has seen some of the biggest and
reputable companies going under and losing jobs.

According to the
latest jobs statistics, this sector lost 142 000 jobs in the first quarter of
2019. As we expand our Inner City programme, this will lend itself to realising
much needed expansion in the sector and many more jobs.

I often wonder how
many jobs this sector would create if only every major city around the country
used Johannesburg’s blueprint for getting South Africans working again.

Unfortunately, unlike
in Johannesburg, there simply is no political will from those who govern the
country.

–         
Mashaba is the executive mayor
of the City of Johannesburg

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