Cover Image
close this bookThe Transition of Youth from School to Work: Issues and Policies (IIEP, 2000, 188 p.)
close this folderChapter V. Youth and work in South Africa: issues, experiences and ideas from a young democracy by Adrienne Bird
View the documentIntroduction
View the document1. Unemployment and recession
View the document2. Social dimensions of unemployment
View the document3. Government responses to unemployment
View the document4. School and skill issues for young people
View the document5. Government responses - education and training
View the document6. What does this all mean from the perspective of a young person?
View the documentConclusion

2. Social dimensions of unemployment

The ILO Country Study reports poverty rates amongst Africans of 54 per cent38, 25 per cent amongst Coloureds, 8 per cent amongst Indians and 0.5 per cent amongst whites. And a recent UNDP Study finds that the strongest contributor to poverty is unemployment. The study also finds that "South Africa's income inequality is considered to be one of the highest in the world. A recent CSS survey shows that more than 65 per cent of all household income is at the disposal of the richest 20 per cent of households, while only 3 per cent goes to the poorest 20 per cent. African, female-headed households represent the poorest group in the country, followed by African, male headed households. At the opposite end, white, male headed households are the most affluent"39.

38 The poverty rate is based on an absolute poverty line according to per capita income. ILO South Africa Country Study, Table 4, p. 79.

39 Adelzadeh, A.; Alvillar, C.; Mather, C. "Poverty elimination, employment creation and sustainable livelihoods in South Africa", A NIEP Report for UNDP, 1998, p. 44.

The HIV/AIDS virus has reached epidemic proportions. The national infection rate, as measured by the number of women testing positive in anti-natal clinics, has risen from 10.4 per cent in 1995, to 22.8 per cent in 199840. Within this figure, the highest infection rate has been measured amongst those between 15 and 24 years old, where the rate is about one in four.

40 Department of Health, Annual Anti-Natal Survey, 1998.

It is hardly surprising that these manifold problems are a nightmare for young people in South Africa. Some of these are:

· 'No hope for the future'. Fatalism is widespread. It is associated with passivity and dependency.

· 'Poor social interaction'. Unemployed youngsters, especially in communities where unemployment is high, have few positive role models. An increasing number live in homes where their parent/s or guardians have never worked. Many feel deserted by the society and government. There is an increasing alienation between the 'have's' and the 'have-nots'. This class divide is experienced from both sides.

· 'No source of income'. This is a consequence of unemployment. Self-employment is not generally perceived to be a viable alternative, and there are still too few successful entrepreneurial role models in African communities. Apartheid prevented access of African entrepreneurs to the market and small business people who were successful became identified as 'collaborators with apartheid'.

In this context, sexual and substance abuse are widespread and the incidence of crime constitutes a national crisis.

There is a reciprocal perception by employers. The ILO Country Review conducted in tandem with the Presidential Labour Market Commission41 in 1996, found that when employers were asked to indicate the preferred age of new recruits, "42.8 per cent had no preference and 17.9 per cent said 'any age under 45'. In an interesting contrast with the experience of other countries, the most likely age group was 26-35, considerably older than was typical in the Philippines and Malaysia, for example." The authors of this report asked the question: "Why do manufacturing firms tend to prefer to recruit production workers at an older age than in other countries?" Many believe that the reason is linked to poor schooling and social problems linked to disrupted family life under apartheid and in the struggle to effect its overthrow. Employers prefer to wait for poverty to domesticate young people! This is evidenced by Table 2 showing the distribution of unemployment across age groups.

41 Standing, G.; Sender, J.; Weeks, J. "Restructuring the labour market: the South African challenge". An ILO Country Review, Geneva, 1996, p. 340.

Table 2. Distribution of unemployment across age groups








1 361 591

1 436 665

687 363

322 323

6 476

3 872 707