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South African labour market recovery stalls months before election

SOUTH Africa’s unemployment rate rose in the fourth quarter of last year, bucking a trend where jobs tend to be added around the holiday season as a labour market recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic ground to a halt.

Analysts said the rise in the official unemployment rate to 32.1% from 31.9% in the third quarter painted a dismal picture months before the country is due to hold national and provincial elections.

The rand extended losses on the data in cautious trade before Wednesday’s 2024 budget.

A presentation by the statistics agency showed community and social services, construction, agriculture and trade sectors contributed to the unemployment increase and that the fourth quarter followed eight consecutive quarters of job gains.


The head of labour statistics at Statistics South Africa, Desiree Manamela, said the drop in employment in the trade sector in the final quarter of 2023 was unusual.

“In previous periods we saw employment being created and mainly because of what happens in trade during the festive season,” she said.

High levels of unemployment and weak economic growth are perennial hot-button issues at the polls, denting support for the governing African National Congress (ANC) in recent elections and boosting opposition parties.

Analysts widely expect the ANC will lose its parliamentary majority for the first time since it came to power at the end of apartheid three decades ago.

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President Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC’s leader, is expected to announce the election date this week.

In particular, the ANC has struggled to win over younger voters, who continue to experience the highest levels of unemployment and many of whom have not registered to vote.

Job cuts announced this week by mining companies Anglo American Platinum and Kumba Iron Ore suggest there could be further upward pressure on the unemployment rate in 2024.