The rising unemployment has reached crisis level that needs an urgent action by the country’s leaders, that was what the leader of the Democratic Alliance in the National Assembly (NA), Mr Mmusi Maimane told Members of the NA recently, during a debate on unemployment in South Africa.

The debate which was under the topic: Urgent matter of national public importance: unemployment crisis in South Africa, was sponsored by Mr Maimane who is the Leader of the official opposition.

Mr Maimane said, five years ago there were eight million South Africans without work. This, he said, was considered a massive number, and clearly our biggest crisis. He said: “Today, that number has gone up to 10 million mark, and there is no sign of it slowing down. Soon it will be 11 and then 12 million.”

“We need to fix this right now. We need to immediately set in motion the reforms that can shock our economy back into life,” said Mr Maimane.

He urged Members of Parliament and government to focus all their efforts on the things that will make South Africa more attractive to investors, and an easier place to be an employer.

According to Mr Maimane that demands,  that the State Owned Entities (SOEs) must meet the objectives for which they exist. About Eskom, he said, “we must split Eskom into separate generation and distribution entities right away, and allow more Independent Power Producers to sell power into the grid”.

He said, the South African Airways (SAA) must immediately be placed under business rescue with a view to selling it off. “We cannot continue to bail it out at the expense of poor South Africans,” Mr Maimane proposed.

He also called for the need to set up a review of government spending in order to prioritise all future spending, which will include curbing the public sector wage bill.

Mr Maimane was critical of government policies like the National Health Insurance (NHI), Land Expropriation Without Compensation, National Minimum Wage and the nationalisation of the South African Reserve Bank. He referred to these policies as disastrous, and called on the government to abandon them.

“These policies will repel investment, they will lock out more people from the labour market and they will cripple our national budget. We must also admit that Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) was never about broad-based inclusion, and we must scrap it entirely. We need a redress plan centred on inclusive growth to ensure real broad-based participation in the economy.”

Participating in the debate, Ms Nobuhle Nkabane of the African National Congress said, though unemployment was one of the most concerning predicaments facing the country, it is not a new phenomenon.

She said, it should be noted that employment happens if the economy is growing and stable. The South African economy has been stagnant or failing since the 80s, and this has been attributed to a number of factors related to apartheid “separate development”. During the same period the majority of South Africans were deprived the right of association and affiliation to join labour unions until 1990.

She applauded the government for making tremendous strides over the past 25 years to meet the basic needs of all segments of our communities, reduce poverty and transform the economy that was characterised by serving the interest of the minority.

“If all of us could critically analyse and define unemployment concept and paradox from a South African perspective, one would learn that basically unemployment doesn’t appear to be the result of lack of initiatives or programmes or stakeholder involvement. As the ANC led government, we have very good policies and plans which serve as our own economic and socio-economic development strategy for the country,” she said.

Mr Mthokozisi Nxumalo of the Inkatha Freedom Party described the unemployment crisis as “a ticking time bomb”.  He said, instability and lack of confidence in our economy is the leading factor to the current unemployment rate of 29 percent, majority of which is the youth.

He said his party believes that South Africa’s economy needs, among other things, large scale foreign direct investment, Small, Medium and Micro-sized Enterprises (SMME) and local economic development together with private and public partnerships.

Also participating in the debate, Rev Kenneth Meshoe of the African Christian Democratic Party, attributed the situation the situation of rising unemployment to poor economic growth and policy uncertainty.

Poor economic growth and economic sabotage, he said, have contributed directly to the unacceptably high unemployment levels in the country.  He also called on government to ensure that South Africa becomes a friendly and attractive investment destination and create a conducive climate to job creation to the benefit of the unemployed in South Africa.  

“The ACDP calls on President Cyril Ramaphosa and his team to restore law and order in the country and to remove policy uncertainty that is one of the major obstacles to much needed investment,” said Rev Meshoe.

The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Mr Floyd Shivambu said a majority of the over 10 million South Africans who were looking for jobs were black people, and referred to the situation as “socio-economic apartheid”.

Mr Shivambu warned members of the ANC in the NA not to adopt Minister Tito Mboweni’s proposed economic growth plan, arguing that it will worsen the situation. “Our economy has been designed not to be labour absorptive, we have a poorly conceptualised industrial policy, we are not building industries – the state must use its buying power to promote local industrialisation,

“You cannot deal with unemployment without industrialisation, let us establish special economic zones in all parts of South Africa so that we can begin to depopulate Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town,” said Mr Shivambu.

Mr Shaun August of the GOOD Party said, in addition to creating an appropriate environment for investment and new jobs, the country should also urgently examine the education system to ensure it produces people with skills the market needs.

The debate was concluded by the Minister of Employment and Labour Mr Thulas Nxesi who reaffirmed government’s commitment and plans to tackle the challenge of unemployment.

He told Members of the NA that, The Presidency and the Department of Trade and Industry are working towards the implementation of the revised Industrial Strategy to increase the participation of sectors that have the realistic potential to achieve large-scale impact on employment and exports.

Mr Nxesi said, the government was also working towards expanding investment in economic infrastructure at both national and local levels, particularly on electricity, ports, rail and roads to create an enabling environment for inclusive growth.

“We are working towards the development of more effective systems to promote sustainable local procurement of capital goods, consumables and services in order to support local industrial capacity,” said Minister Nxesi.

By Sakhile Mokoena

6 September