It was clear, from speaking to many delegates at the ANC’s 53rd national elective conference in Mangaung in December, that 2013 and 2014 would have to be about delivery – and one of the areas where the ruling party and by extension the government would have to deliver, would be with regards to jobs, jobs and more jobs.
The ANC’s inability to create enough jobs could come back to bite it in the 2014 general election. It could be exploited by opposition parties as the ruling party’s Achilles’ heel.
The delegates at Mangaung seemed to realise that the economic situation, including not having a job, could impact on many other areas of civic life, such as reconciliation and public confidence in elected officials.
This view is born out by the latest SA Reconciliation Barometer survey, commissioned by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR), the findings of which were made public about a week before the Mangaung conference.
“Since the outset of the project, the Reconciliation Barometer survey has hypothesised that a greater sense of security among South Africans will contribute to reconciliation. A longitudinal assessment of the survey results over time also reveals, broadly speaking, that dips in public optimism and confidence often coincide with economic downturn – particularly during the recession,” the report’s compilers write.
Despite the “economic uncertainty”, which Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has warned “will be with us for some time”, young people (under-35s) interviewed for the Reconciliation Barometer survey appeared much more positive about their own economic situation.
Nationally, 34,9 percent believed when interviewed in April/May that their chances of finding a job had improved in the past year. Just under 45 percent (44,9 percent) believed that the situation for people like themselves was set to improve in the next two years.
However, the optimism is somewhat contradicted by 45,9 percent who believed that they would probably be unemployed within the coming year.
Closer analysis of the SARB survey results indicate that optimism among under-35s with regard to the economic situation of people like themselves in the next two years was highest among those who were already working full-time (52,9 percent) or part-time (56,4 percent), in comparison with those who were unemployed and looking for work (41,4 percent).
This probably bears out the SARB’s hypothesis of confidence and optimism increasing with economic stability.
Like the delegates at the ANC’s Mangaung conference, many of the respondents to the SARB survey felt that the government could do more to create jobs.
Overall, 41,9 percent felt that government was not doing enough, but criticism was most robust among those living in the least affluent households. More than half (53,1 percent) of all respondents in LSM1 (the poorest of the poor) felt that government has not done enough to deliver jobs for young people.
This should be a worrying sign for the ANC who depend on the votes of poor South Africans to keep them in power.
The respondents to the SARB survey were reasonably well representative of the South African population.
Of all the respondents to the SARB survey, almost half the respondents (49 percent) between the ages of 20 and 24 were unemployed and looking for work, while 22,1 percent were students and 22,8 percent were working full- or part-time.
Just under 40 percent (39,8 percent) of 25- to 29-year-olds, 33,3 percent of 30- to 34-year-olds and 20,7 percent of respondents older than 35 were unemployed and actively looking for work.
The government’s employment equity initiatives also came under focus in the SARB survey, with the population apparently divided over its usefulness, often along racial lines.
Overall, about half of the people surveyed (49,2 percent) believed that government should still make use of apartheid racial categories, especially to measure the impact of policy and programming and to track progress for disadvantaged communities, and this has increased from 40,1 percent five years ago.
However, while 54 percent of African blacks supported Employment Equity and workplace transformation, only 33,5 percent of coloureds and 27,5 percent of whites were supportive.
More than half of South Africa’s population believed that the workforce should be representative on the basis of race (57,7 percent), gender (62,9 percent) and disabilities (63,9 percent).
African black youth (53,9 percent) and adults (49,1 percent) felt most strongly that Black Economic Empowerment was a good policy to ensure greater participation of black people in the economy, while only 23,6 percent of white youth felt that EE policies have succeeded in creating a more representative workforce.
This finding is not unexpected, seeing that many whites feel that they are the victims of affirmative action and employment equity.
One of the big issues that could derail government’s attempt to transform the South African economy and workforce is the quality of education as well as education levels among different parts of the population.
Almost 20 years after our country has become a democracy, we still have huge discrepancies between the education received by most whites as opposed to most blacks.
Education levels, as seen in the SARB survey and the Census 2011 report, could have a bearing on creating jobs in a transformative environment. According to Census 2011, 35,3 percent of African blacks and 41,8 percent of coloureds reported their highest level of education to be “some secondary schooling” while 40,8 percent of whites and 40,4 percent of Indians were more likely to have completed Grade 12.
Many more whites over 20 years of age (36,5 percent) indicated that they had participated in higher education after completing high school, as opposed to 8,3 percent of African blacks and 7,4 percent of coloureds.
This fact, more than anything else, should give us an indication of how much more needs to be done to level the playing fields in South Africa, to use an old cliché.
The fact is that, as long as you have different standards and levels of education for different race groups in South Africa, you will find it difficult to transform our society and our economy.
You will also find it difficult to create jobs, because jobs depend on people having particular skills as well as experience.
The SARB report identified that economic and social solutions should go hand in hand. “Economic solutions must not be at the expense of simultaneously working to close social faultlines and fissures, or a ticking timebomb may indeed be on our hands,” the report concluded.
The delegates at Mangaung did not discuss the Reconciliation Barometer, but they should have. It could have helped them understand much better the urgent needs related to jobs and its possible implications for the ANC’s hold on political power in South Africa.
Ryland Fisher, a former editor of the Cape Times and The New Age, is a media consultant. A version of this article appeared in the Weekend Argus on 20 January 2012.