The only province in South Africa where there are more people unemployed than working

 ·15 Nov 2023

South Africa’s unemployment rate trended downwards in the third quarter of 2023 despite the inflated cost of living, high interest rates and fuel prices, and continued load shedding.

The latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QFLS), published by Statistics South Africa on Tuesday (14 November), shows that the official unemployment decreased by 0.7% from 32.6% in the second quarter of 2023 to 31.9% in the third quarter.

According to the data, the number of unemployed persons dropped by 72,000 to 7.8 million during the period. The number of employed persons increased by 399,000 to 16.7 million in the third quarter of 2023 compared to 16.3 million in the second quarter of 2023.

Additionally, the number of people who were not economically active for reasons other than discouragement decreased by 160,000 to 13.1 million, while the number of discouraged work-seekers decreased by 26,000 in the third quarter of 2023 compared to the second quarter of 2023.

This resulted in a net decrease of 186,000 in the not economically active population. The expanded definition of the unemployment rate also dropped by 0.9% to 41.2% in Q3 2023.

Provincial performance

Provincially, the number of employed persons increased in eight provinces between Q2 2023 and Q3 2023. KwaZulu Natal (+152,000), Limpopo (+70,000), North West (+61,000) and Mpumalanga (+44,000) saw the largest employment number increases during the quarter.

The Free State (-3,000) was the only province to see employment losses during Q3 – a second consecutive quarter following a decline of 59,000 in Q2 2023.

Compared to Q3 2022, the largest increases in employment were recorded in Western Cape (+305,000), KwaZulu-Natal (+255,000), Limpopo (+202,000), Eastern Cape (+99,000) and Gauteng (+96,000).

Limpopo had the biggest year-on-year percentage change in employment, with an increase of 15.1%.

The provinces with the most employed

According to the latest data, the Western Cape has the lowest unemployment rate (standard definition) in South Africa at 20.2%, meaning it has the most people working than unemployed in the country. This is then followed by the Northern Cape (26.3%), Kwa-Zulu Natal (29.4%) and Limpopo (30.8%).

Additionally, the Western Cape is the only province that has consistently been well below the South African average official unemployment rate over the past ten years, with KZN toeing the line.

The City of Cape Town noted that it had added 205,000 new jobs over the last year, more than all other metros combined.

The metro’s unemployment rate fell by 3,8% year-on-year, the lowest of the metros by a 6.5% point margin.

By contrast, over the last ten years, the Eastern Cape has consistently been above the average official unemployment rate.

However, looking at the expanded definition of unemployment, the situation is much worse for most provinces.

The Western Cape is the only province with an unemployment rate below 30% on the expanded definition, with all other provinces sitting between 39% and 52% of their adult populations without or not seeking work.

One province – the North West – has more adults out of work and not looking than people who are employed, with an unemployment rate of 51.2%. This is closely followed by Mpumalanga province, which sits at 46.7%.

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