White vs black unemployment in South Africa

 ·27 Aug 2015
SA unemployment

DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane says that race remains a significant indicator of income level in South Africa.

Speaking to the DA Students’ Organisation (DASO) at the University of Cape Town on Wednesday, Maimane said that black South Africans are still being disproportionately withheld from opportunities that most white people take for granted.

“The reality is that unemployment among black South Africans stands at 39% compared to 8.3% among whites,” he said.

“All the indicators point to an increase in the number of black people in both the middle and upper class. Between 1993 and 2008, the number of black South Africans in the middle class more than doubled but remained a relatively small portion of the total population. But the composition of the lower classes remains predominantly black,” the DA lead said.

“In an urban environment where social interaction across racial, social and cultural divides is more common, it is easy to forget that the vast majority of the unemployed, rural population is black.”


In July, data from Stats SA put South Africa’s population at just over 54 million.

South African population by sex and race

South African population by sex and race

Maimane said that people living in secluded suburbs, who bypass the townships created by the racial segregation policies of Apartheid, too easily ignore the plight of the unseen masses who reside within them.

“They still suffer disproportionately from unemployment and an inferior quality of life,” Maimane said.

“The spatial legacy that is before us makes me realise the slow progress that this government has made in being able to build a truly inclusive, non-racial South Africa,” he said.

He said that the reality is that for those children born into a black household, on average they will have less access to quality services, including basic services like water and sanitation, than a child born into a white household – and will generally receive an inferior education.

“This manifests through decreased access to social capital in black households, especially with regard to economic issues.

“Young black South Africans simply face greater hurdles to success,” Maimane said.

A year ago, StatsSA research found that the unemployment rate increased from 22% to 25% over the past 20 years.

Under the expanded definition of unemployment, however, the number of unemployed rose by 3.5 million between 1994 and 2014, with the unemployment rate at 35%.

The expanded definition includes those who are unemployed and who are available to work, whether or not they have taken active steps to find employment.

“Possibly of most concern is the increase in the unemployment rate for black Africans with tertiary education. It more than doubled, from 8% to 19%,” Stats SA said.

Unemployment by education level

Unemployment by education level

StatsSA showed that in the first quarter of 2014, approximately 25% of South African workers were in a skilled occupation, namely managers, professionals and technicians.

This was an increase from 21% in 1994.

Employment composition by skills

Employment composition by skills

Employment by the numbers

Research published by StatsSA earlier in the year found that in 2014, as many as 1.5 million of the 5.1 million unemployed people were looking for a job for more than 5 years, up from 974,000 in 2008.

Over the period 2008–2014, the incidence of long-term unemployment was highest among Black Africans with as many as 61.0% – 71.0% of that group looking for work for one year or longer.

The unemployment rate among the white population group – ranging between 4.1% in 2008 and 7.3% in 2014 – is the lowest of all the population groups by a large margin, the data found.

In 2014, black Africans account for 79.3% of the working age population but they are under -represented among the employed (73.0%) and over-represented among the unemployed (85.7%) and the not economically active population (83.3%).

Compounding the dire labour market situation of black Africans, is that an even larger percentage (87.4%) of those that are unemployed have been looking for work for one year or longer, StatsSA said.

Labour market rates by population group

Labour market rates by population group

Maimane pointed out that broad definition unemployment has not dropped below 30% since President Zuma took office.

Of those who are unemployed, almost two-thirds are young people, he said.

The DA said that overcoming the legacy of racial economic exclusion requires more than just B-BBEE policies that enrich a small group of individuals.

According to Dr Anthea Jeffery, Head of Policy Research at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), BEE only benefits approximately 15% of the black population.

“To accelerate redress you have to intensify economic growth. Broadening economic participation requires that we create an entrepreneurial culture that places small businesses at the forefront of job creation,” aid Maimane.

“I cannot overstate how important this objective is.”

Job creation is not the end, but the means to overcoming the injustices of the past and building a society in which reward is proportionate to effort, the DA said.

“The DA’s approach to redress focuses on the need to expand the number of job opportunities available to all South Africans while recognising the need to incentivise diversity and inclusivity,” Maimane said.

“I hold the belief that the project of the rainbow nation has not failed, but we must work harder to look past the short handles of skin colour and look at who we are.”

More on employment in SA

The shocking truth about employment in SA

Uncovering SA employment by race

South Africa unemployment is worse now than at the end of apartheid

SA unemployment is the economy’s fault: Zuma

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