Five million jobs by 2014. How embarrassing. Six million jobs by 2019. A knife to the public’s face.
Jacob Zuma’s final SONA last week rang of more political rhetoric and sugarcoating and piggybacking on successes of the previous political dispensation, in the midst of May 7. Employment is at its highest level in South Africa’s history. I, a university postgraduate, feel indifferent, maybe because unemployment is also at its highest it has ever been.
Surely we cannot call the growth in employment one of natural progression, especially if public sector employment is the biggest creator of jobs and private sector employment continues to lose momentum in a protest-ridden, low-private-investment sluggish economy. The good news is that we are back at pre-crisis highs.
The bad news, unfortunately, is that only 1.5 million jobs were created since the beginning of 2009, or more concretely put only ‘recovered’ if we speak about the manufacturing and agricultural sectors who have not even managed to create any jobs over the period.
What is even more scarier is that the community and social services sector, which includes provincial governments and local municipalities who have been the biggest creator of jobs, is responsible for 50% of those 1.5 million jobs. This comes as a surprise and a contradiction to Trevor Manuel’s 2008 statement that we need to disillusion people of the notion that we can have a developmental state government capable of creating jobs for all.
Economists speak of a role for Government that involves creating an enabling environment for the private sector. But, instead it is almost as if we have a mighty powerful Government that seeks to participate directly in and achieve its own developmental objectives rather than to aid in the dealings and workings of the docile private sector. Surely Jacob Zuma can take credit for that. But then again we cannot forget about the 600 000 people who have been added to the pool of unemployed since then.
It’s not like we can blame the private sector. Business will be business. If domestic demand continues to stifle and regulatory constraints persist, we cannot expect the private sector to invest in order for us to reach our target 5% growth rate. After all, it’s bad enough that the private sector cannot invest but instead are forced to save and carry the burden of the Government’s dissaving and households’ poor saving to finance the current account.
But then again, even though the private sector’s top line has remained moderate, it seems as if people, who are supposed to be their most valuable asset are being squeezed so that their bottom line can improve and value be delivered to shareholders.
The fact is, there are plenty of jobs. And yet, I, with a postgraduate degree in economics and the two million other unemployed people who are also new entrants into the job market still find it difficult to find a job. It should not be the Government’s responsibility to find and fill a post for those people. If it were then I’d think that the Government has done a pretty decent job at that.
But it’s not. The Government’s responsibility is to create an enabling environment for the private sector, and it is the private sector’s responsibility to create jobs. Because without a decent living wage there can be no economy and there can be no spending power, and a current spend and public wage bill that continues to put strain on the fiscus will leave less for public infrastructure spend and all the other things that the private sector is just not willing to provide on its own.
We can blame Jacob Zuma for not delivering on his promise of five million jobs, we could blame the labour regulatory framework for making it almost impossible for the unemployed, unskilled and inexperienced to find work, we could blame the lack of cooperative governance and lack of autonomy and decision-making powers at provincial and local level, or we could blame the current and previous political dispensations’ years of adopting neoliberal policies that delivered only on the promise of growth but not employment.
In a perfect world though, it would be ideal that the Government create a balance between its macro developmental objectives and its urge to participate directly in the economy, and maintain a public sector that serves rather than competes with the private sector through infrastructure development and the provision of public and social services.
But, unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.