“Aren’t you scared of getting kidnapped?” he asked her. ‘He’ being a participant of CIPE’s capacity-building workshop on association management, in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. ‘Her’ was a CIPE consultant, based in Romania, who had flown in to Mauritania to facilitate the workshop.
South Africa has made amazing strides since the end of the apartheid in 1994. Yet, even though it is the Continent economic engine, South Africa continues to suffer from poverty and inequality that have their roots in the apartheid era. The prime symptom is the country’s persistently high unemployment rate, currently of 23 percent. The global recession certainly does not help. But the core of the problem goes deeper: it is not a cyclical economic downturn that keeps the jobless rate high. Rather, it is the legacy of unequal economic opportunities in the past for the country’s majority that resulted in scores of people who, with no marketable skills, do not work and never had a formal job.
There is little consensus on a solution. But experts agree that joblessness is costly to South Africa, which helps support nearly one-quarter of the population with the developing world’s biggest welfare program. Some warn that chronic unemployment is a tinderbox for instability of the sort that flared last year, when poor South Africans unleashed a wave of violence against foreigners they accused of taking their jobs.
Ann Bernstein, executive director of the Center for Development and Enterprise in Johannesburg – a CIPE partner – adds: “Worst of all, unemployment is a terrible waste of human potential. Almost every unemployed person could and should be doing productive work that would improve their lives and develop the country.”
President Jacob Zuma, a populist elected a few months ago on promises of spreading wealth, has pledged to create half a million jobs this year and 3.5 million more by 2014. But the promised jobs are temporary public works positions that might not lead to true employment gains. And with South Africa now in recession after years of steady growth, economists say the government will have a hard enough time saving jobs, much less creating them.
Economic inclusion cannot happen overnight. But it is clear that 15 years after oppression of the apartheid ended, most South Africans still struggle with gaining access to skills needed in a modern marketplace and can’t fully participate in their country’s economy.