The scourge of unemployment easily counts as one of the major crises facing post-apartheid South Africa, and dims the glory that comes with being the continent’s most advanced economy.
With the much-anticipated Jobs Summit held last week now a thing of the past, questions remain on whether the resolutions inked by government and the private sector will provide sufficient relief to dent the 27.2% unemployment rate.
For the unemployed masses, school drops-outs, graduates and those who have given up job hunting, the summit held a deeply personal meaning, depending on the individual’s level of optimism after years of promises of a better life and employment opportunities.
These are the people who are every day greeted by “No Vacancies” notices when searching for jobs online, who are turned away at the gates of factories and stand at street corners waiting to be picked up for whatever piece job that may be available.
The level of desperation has seen graduates in cities take to standing at traffic lights handing out their CVs to passing motorists, hoping one of them could be a potential employer.
In the face of such desperation, the unemployed would be hard-pressed to believe that the commitments made by government and business at the Midrand Jobs summit would bring an end to their plight. In their minds, the assortment of agreements signed at the summit bring the feeling that “we have heard this before”.
Given the scope of unemployment, said to be hovering just under 40% if the official figures were to include the number people who have given up looking for jobs, concise and practical solutions on how the promised number of jobs would actually be delivered would be all that could bring hope to the unemployed multitudes. South Africa’s unemployment crisis demand action, not words and promises.
Promised numbers vs. reality
Faced with a flagging economy battered by years of poor growth, committing to create 275 000 jobs a year sounds like a tall order. It is also not clear if these numbers are going to be achieved through temporal jobs or permanent opportunities that would make a meaningful dent in the unemployment rate, as the 84-page Framework Agreement document is severely lacking in detail.
The document mainly provides guidelines on how certain sectors would be used to harness growth to create employment.
Many of these interventions, such as the revitalisation of the clothing and textiles industry; critical skills developmenT, particularly at training colleges; and boosting of township economies; have been bandied about before.
It would be worth monitoring how the stressed mining industry, which has been shedding jobs in recent years - and plans to cut more heads - would adhere to the commitment of avoiding lay-offs. Job losses in the mining firms have been linked to external factors such as low global demand for commodities and the fluctuation of commodity prices. Some companies have stated that retrenchments were unavoidable.
The biggest winners in this new framework agreement were public service employees, who were given an explicit assurance that there would be no retrenchments in the sector. Threats of job cuts had been making rounds over the last few weeks. Instead, more people will be hired to fill critical posts.
The fiscal challenge presented by the country’s 2.1 million-strong public service workforce has been flagged by global ratings agencies and lending institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank as one of the key concerns.
Reducing the bloated workforce and the wage bill would have sent a positive message to the world about the government’s commitment to improving fiscal controls and reigning in public expenditure.
To get an idea of how much the outcomes of the Midrand summit have been regurgitated, dressed up in different terminology and presented to the hungry masses as new job creation measures, one needs to go back to the speeches former president Jacob Zuma delivered over the years in his state of the nation addresses.
Throughout his shambolic term, which is partly to blame for the crisis in which we find ourselves, terms like the Expanded Public Works Programme, township and rural economy improvement and Working on Waste, Working for Wetlands, Working for Water, and SMME development dominated his job creation plans.
The new document is peppered with similar interventions. But the saving grace of the new framework appears to be the establishment of a task team which will provide continuous monitoring and evaluation of the agreement and report back to the presidency on a quarterly basis.
That gives hope that maybe we might be headed in the right direction. Only time will tell.
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