South Africa Tackles Rising Unemployment

A staggering 4.6 million people are out of work and many are young and Black.

Posted: 05/13/2013 01:41 PM EDT

Although South Africa has received glowing praise for its economic growth and the rise of a Black middle class, the country still grapples with a stark and sobering reality: South Africa has one of the world's highest unemployment rates.

The official jobless rate in South Africa jumped to 25.2 percent in the first quarter of 2013, translating into a staggering 4.6 million people out of work.

Last week, labor organizers began sounding the alarm on the country’s unemployment situation, calling the sky high jobless rates a “ticking time bomb.”

“The bomb will continue to tick until at some point it begins exploding in a co-ordinated way,” Zwelinzima Vavi, the general-secretary of South Africa’s largest workers union, COASTU, told the South African Press Association. He said the situations should be making “every South African have sleepless nights."

In light of the heightening situation, many are pointing fingers at the African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling political party that boasts the likes of Nelson Mandela and ushered the country out of apartheid rule.

While the party’s legacy can’t be argued with, some feel like the current unemployment situation is a sign that it’s time to do away with the old guard of South African politics.

"The ANC has lost its way, it has been sidetracked by the trappings of wealth distributed to the politically connected elite, while the majority languish in poverty,” Eddie Mokhoanatse, co-founder of the new, South Africa First party told AFP.

Mokhoanatse is part of the growing anti-ANC chorus that actually used to be ANC. The South Africa First party was started by members of the ANC’s now defunct armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Among the hardest hit in the crisis have been South Africa’s young people. With nearly three out of every four unemployed people under age 35, NPR reports that Haroon Bhorat, professor of economics at the University of Cape Town, estimates that youth unemployment might be as high as 60 percent.

And to be young and Black presents even more hurdles. The unemployment rate for young, Black South Africans is estimated to hover around 55 percent.

However, for young Black South Africans, there is a sliver of hope that education will help them fare the rough waters of the country’s job market. Youth who had successfully completed their matric exams (rigorous high school exit exams) were more likely to be employed that those who did not.

For Blacks who completed Grade 12 or less, unemployment stands at 34.7 percent. Among those who passed matric exams, the unemployment rate was just 10.6 percent.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Rogan Ward)

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