SA unemployment rate rises to 32.9% ahead of critical elections

South Africa’s unemployment rate rose to 32.9% in the first quarter of 2024, marking the second consecutive quarterly increase. The upcoming national and provincial elections on May 29 highlight joblessness as a major concern, with the governing ANC facing potential loss of its parliamentary majority. Despite job gains in some sectors like manufacturing and mining, structural issues persist. Long-term unemployment has nearly doubled in the past decade, particularly affecting youth and Black populations.

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By Kopano Gumbi

PRETORIA, May 14 (Reuters) – South Africa’s unemployment rate rose for the second quarter in a row to 32.9% in the first three months of this year, data showed on Tuesday, two weeks before the governing African National Congress faces its toughest election yet.

The increase from 32.1% in the fourth quarter of last year brings the official unemployment rate closer to the record high of 35.3% reached in late 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

South Africans will vote in national and provincial elections on May 29, with opinion polls suggesting that the governing African National Congress (ANC), which has been in power since the end of apartheid, is at risk of losing its parliamentary majority.

Joblessness has risen about 10 percentage points in the three decades since the ANC came to power under liberation hero Nelson Mandela and is a key concern among voters.

In the first quarter of 2024 the largest decreases in employment were in the community and social services and construction sectors. There were job gains in sectors like manufacturing, agriculture and mining.

Read more: SA youth pessimism soars: Corruption and unemployment fears cloud future prospects

Frank Blackmore, KPMG South Africa’s lead economist, said as long as the economy continues to grow below 1% with population growth of about 1.5% then the unemployment rate will continue to rise.

Sanisha Packirisamy, economist at Momentum Investments, said policy measures had failed to address structural problems contributing to joblessness, like matching graduates to jobs available.

Over the past decade the number of people in long-term unemployment, or those who have not worked for a year or longer, has nearly doubled. The total number of unemployed people stands at more than 8.2 million.

Unemployment rates are especially high among South African youth compared to older age groups, and among Black people versus other population groups.

The ANC government created a new benefit for the working-age unemployed accessed by over 6 million people during the COVID pandemic. Though it was meant to be temporary, it was extended earlier this year.

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(Reporting by Kopano Gumbi; Additional reporting by Tannur Anders and Bhargav Acharya; Editing by Alexander Winning and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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