Guest Column

SA's jobs crisis: How to slash our 5 000 km unemployment line

2019-06-04 09:58
Unemployment is one of major challenges affecting the youth. (File)

Unemployment is one of major challenges affecting the youth. (File)

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The appointment of Thulas Nxesi as Minister of Employment and Labour was not just a monumental let-down, but a proverbial middle finger to the 10 million unemployed South Africans, writes Mmusi Maimane.

In today's world of mass, uninterrupted and unfiltered stream of information bombarding us from every angle at every minute, there is a natural human tendency to become desensitised to that which should grab our attention and shake our conscience. It is certainly one of the downsides of the information age.

However, this weekend I came across a fact that cut through the noise, like a bolt of lightning to my very core, shining a new light on our nation's most pressing crisis.

That is – if every unemployed South African stood in a single file queue, with an average gap of 50 centimetres between them and the person in front of them, the queue would stretch almost 5000 kilometres long. The queue would run from Cape Town to Nairobi, Kenya; or from Cape Town to Johannesburg, and back to Cape Town – twice!

It took me some time to wrap my head around the magnitude of what that means for South Africa. It made the arduous task of queueing at a Home Affairs or SARS office seem like joyful task. But more importantly, it reminded me that the greatest challenge SA faces, is how to slash our ever-growing unemployment queue.

Unemployment is the great disruptor. Our national ailment. An unmitigated ticking time bomb waiting to implode at any moment. It facilitates the growing inequality between the "haves" and "have nots", allows poverty to thrive, and it heaps further pressure on young black South Africans through "black tax".

It disproportionately affects our young people. Economist Ann Bernstein, from the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), estimates that since 2008, at least 563 young people have joined the ranks of the unemployed each day.

A job brings so much more than just an income. It brings order, meaning and value to an otherwise chaotic existence. In the words of former US President Bill Clinton, "I do not believe we can repair the basic fabric of society until people who are willing to work have work. Work organises life. It gives structure and discipline to life."

Clinton's words ring true for us today. Creating work for the 10 million unemployed South Africans is the primary mechanism through which we begin to undo the legacy of our painful past and begin building One South Africa for All. Everything we do as a government should ask this question: Does this help create work for those without a job?

For 10 million unemployed South Africans – and millions more who are the sole breadwinners for often multiple households – the most anticipated appointment in President Ramaphosa's Cabinet was who would head up the newly formed Department of Employment and Labour.

Sadly, the appointment of Thulas Nxesi as Minister of Employment and Labour was not just a monumental let-down, but a proverbial middle finger to the 10 million unemployed South Africans. Nxesi is an ardent unionist and communist, currently serving as deputy chairperson of the SACP. Before that, he served as secretary-general of Sadtu for 14 years.

Let us, for one moment, forget his chequered history in covering up the infamous Nkandla scandal – it's the rapid creation of millions of jobs that this man oversees. But his ideological belief system simply won't allow this.

The question we must all ask Cyril Ramaphosa is how he expects a staunch communist to implement pro-growth, pro-job creation policies that are so desperately required. It would be like appointing a Jacob Zuma to head up the Hawks or the NPA. It defies logic, and shows that for Ramaphosa, rewarding internal loyalty is more important than creating work for those without a job.

If we are to be honest, the ANC, in government, is unable to solve our jobs crisis. Even under Ramaphosa's last 16 months as president, the unemployment rate has continued to rise unabated. We desperately need an immediate, bold and radical solution to slash our 5 000 km unemployment queue.

Over 100 years ago, Danish mathematician AK Erlang proposed what is now termed the "Queuing Theory", which is the mathematical study of the congestion and delays of waiting in line. The goal was to find ways to ensure that the time spent waiting in a queue is minimised to as short as possible. It goes without saying that this increases productivity, customer satisfaction, and contributes to the overall wellbeing of all involved.

Today, Erlang's "Queueing Theory" is used all over the world by industrial engineers and project managers when designing buildings, office blocks, restaurants, shopping malls, hospitals and other service-related structures.

It is high time we found our own "Queueing Theory", and I have a plan to radically reduce the employment queue. While there is no silver bullet, I propose the following six immediate solutions:

1. Pass the Jobs Bill, which focuses on two key areas critical to our economic recovery: Foreign Investment and SMMEs. The Bill provides for special tax incentives and property allowances for foreign companies that meet certain socio-economic empowerment goals. We will also legislate a wide range of incentives for foreign companies, which will include key areas such as industrial projects, enterprise investment, critical infrastructure, research & development, agri-businesses and film and TV production.

2. Rolling out a national Job Centres project where unemployed people can access job opportunities (including learnerships and apprenticeships) on a local database, get assistance in preparing job applications or receive employment counselling;

3. Introducing a National Civilian Service year to provide work experience for the approximately 78 443 unemployed matriculants (from the class of 2016 alone) to enter into work-based training in the community healthcare, basic education or SAPS fields;

4. Adopting a city-led economic growth agenda, focusing on cities as the drivers of growth and job creation

5. Scraping B-BBEE legislation and introduce true redress measures that broaden inclusion to include internships, bursaries, and funding of schools as legitimate empowerment; and

6. Reversing the blanket National Minimum Wage, which will block many young unemployed people from finding work, and will cost at least 700 000 jobs;

If we begun tomorrow, we could begin to roll back the destructive tide of unemployment and place our country back on the path towards inclusive growth, increased prosperity, and a shared future.

- Mmusi Maimane MP is the federal leader of the Democratic Alliance.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    cyril ramaphosa  |  mmusi mai­mane  |  unemployment
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