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The debate on Solutions to Address Job Losses in South Africa and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Growth Forecast Decline offered Members of Parliament an opportunity to relay their perspectives on how to arrest job losses. On the eve of elections this largely economic issue, which was moved by the Leader of the Opposition, became a political campaign tool. 

Mr Geordin Hill-Lewis of the Democratic Alliance (DA) opened the debate in that vein. “In this election, 10 million unemployed South Africans face a life-changing choice: which party will give them the best chance of finding work over the next five years … The whole election boils down to that question: which party is the jobs party?”

“One party in this house, the Democratic Alliance, has left every other party in the dust in delivering jobs that create economic growth.” He claimed that in those areas where the DA is in power, especially in the Western Cape, the party has created more jobs that other parts of the country. “There is only one party that has actually delivered 640 000 new jobs in 10 years.”

“There is only one party that has delivered an unemployment rate of 14% points lower than the national average and the Western Cape is the only province in the country with an unemployment rate below 20% for the first time,” Mr Hill-Lewis stated.

It is the DA, he said, that has delivered on the promise of job creation. “If every ANC governed province had done as well as the one DA governed province, we would have achieved this goal.”

The representative of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in this debate, Ms Lusizo Makhubela-Mashele, suggested that the topic for debate should rather be: Interventions in the Economy that Builds Inclusive Growth Creating Jobs and Provide for decent Work Whilst Protecting Existing JobsShe pointed out: “It is the ANC-led government that created a conducive environment for inclusive economic growth and job creation. It is important to reflect on employment, as this is a key economic indicator of inclusive economic growth.”

In her view the rising unemployment rate should be contextualised. “Statistics South Africa [Stats SA] has reported that employment peaked in 2008 to approximately 13.8 million when the economy was better. However, during recession of 2009 and 2010 there were job losses.”

Even in successive years of decline “employment grew by 204 000 and 258 000 in 2011 and 2012 respectively”. Ms Makhubela-Mashele quoted the Quarterly Labour Force Survey released by Stats SA on 12 February, which indicated that for the fourth quarter of 2018, the unemployment rate decreased by 0.4% of a percentage point to 27.1 percent. 

This is linked to the absorption rate of new entrants to the job market, she said. “This is a positive growth trajectory and shows that the government of the African National Congress is indeed a government of the people. Thus it can be trusted and given the mandate to lead South Africans to a prosperous future.” 

There is enough evidence, she said, to show that the ANC is steering the South African economy in a right direction. “The successful Presidential Jobs Summit and the Investment Conference that secured R1.46 trillion – which will flow to townships and rural areas as the basis of inclusive growth, equal distribution of income and the creation of sustainable job opportunities – attest to job creation and economic growth strategies of the ruling party.”

The simple reality is that it is only the Economic Freedom Fighters that have presented a cogent plan on job creation and economic growth, said Dr Sophie Thembekwayo. She blamed job losses to “the failure by the post-1994 government to create jobs for able, willing and young people of this country”. Young people should not despair any longer, for the EFF will “carry the hope, the political and ideological will to create jobs and a living wage”. 

The solution lies in the creation of a sustainable industrial policy to maximise South Africa’s export capacity, Dr Thembekwayo said. “Currently, we import everything we use on a daily basis. We import spoons, pots, computers and electrical appliances. These are products which we can produce. Our people who are unemployed can be employed in factories to produce these products.”

We need to invest in small and medium enterprises, for they contribute 60% to 70% of the GDP and also boost the capacity of state-owned enterprises to contribute to job creation, said Mr Nhlanhlakayise Khubisa, of the National Freedom Party.

He condemned corruption and government borrowing for its negative effect on the national budget. “We need to nip fraud and corruption in the bud to save billions of rands that are stolen from government.” This is an important debate as all “of us as citizens of South Africa we have to put our heads together and try to engage ways and means to turn the economy of the country around,” he emphasised.

Tragically, our national project and hope of a better life for all lie in tatters, maintained Mr William Madisha of the Congress of the People (Cope). This is a consequence of “corrupted leadership, bad and malfeasant governance, and reckless policy choices”. 

We find ourselves in an unsustainable position, “Without meaningful, labour intensive growth, we are condemning the majority of our people to a life of poverty and misery, with little means to break the circle,” Mr Madisha said.              

Abel Mputing

27 February 2019