Some thoughts on South Africa’s unemployment

A faculty member at The Da Vinci Institute, Mixo Sweetness Sithole reflects…

Unemployment continues to be a crisis in South Africa, and we should be wary about its negative effects on people and society in general. Socio-economic impacts society at the micro, meso, exo and macro levels.  Melinda Du Toit, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Centre for Social Development in Africa (University of Johannesburg) indicates that, “[u]nemployment has both individual and social consequences that require public policy interventions. For the individual, unemployment can cause psychological distress, which can lead to a decline in life satisfaction. It can also lead to mood disorders and substance abuse. Unemployment can affect one’s social status ascription as well, which manifests through stigmatisation, labelling, unfair judgement, and marginalisation.” Furthermore, unemployment can result in increased crime rates, as well as socio-political unrests – as witnessed recently in South Africa.

According to a recent publication by Stats SA, South Africa’s unemployment rate currently sits at 34.4%. The Stats SA publication further indicates that the unemployment rate amongst the youth population remains high, at about 64.4% for those between the age of 15-24 years, and at 42.9% between the age of 25-34 years. This reflects the fact that the country is still struggling to somehow find alternative ways of absorbing the younger generation into spaces where there are skills development programmes or work-related opportunities on offer. Youth unemployment remains a threat to the democratic order.

A notable incident that exposed this threat in our country was the recent unrest that saw a large number of young people getting involved in looting shops, with others committing other crimes in the process. Most of the reports that emerged following the unrest indicated that the lack of jobs and hunger, as a result, were some of the motivations behind the actions of the looting spree.

This hopelessness in our young people is something that ought not to be taken lightly. We ought to reflect on the need and value of creating opportunities for the youth to be absorbed into various sectors of the workforce. Youthful energy within organisations may lead to more agility and innovation in the workplace with their potential ability to adapt to change and quickly absorb new knowledge. They may come to workspaces as inexperienced, but over time and with proper guidance, under sound leadership, they may gain new insights and develop some leadership skills to be disseminated back into the workforce.

On the other hand, The World Bank notes that one of the causes of joblessness is South Africa is the lack of entrepreneurial opportunities for the youth. According to the bank’s report, opening entrepreneurial opportunities for the youth in South Africa could be one of the best ways to revive the struggling economy and create job opportunities. The report further states that implementing policies that can revive the labour market, promote investment, preserve economic stability, and encourage self-employment in South Africa. This could potentially assist in rebuilding a country of weakened economic growth after the pandemic.

An additional contribution to unemployment in South Africa that should be investigated is connected to a lack of access to education post schooling that could lead to access into the job market. This also makes it difficult for employees to then afford opportunities to those that are disadvantaged.


This is a call for both public and private sectors to really reflect on what they can offer as partners to improving unemployment and the upliftment of the youth. There needs to be the promotion of partnerships across sectors to aid the recovery of the nation’s economy. Promoting domestic and international investments is a good step for the country but the loss of confidence in government betrays a negative perception about South Africa in general. It is important, therefore, that our government put some energy into combating corruption and rebuilding the citizenry and investor confidence. This may improve the odds for possible employment and decrease the intimidating high rate of unemployment among the young members of our society.

Building back better in our Covid-19 times should be our collective priority as citizens, albeit with a focus on job creation.