Sunday Times

Jobs: one hand giveth, the other taketh away

- Steve Jobs · Belgium · Austria · Cyril Ramaphosa · Iceland · Belarus · Pravin Gordhan · Congress of South African Trade Unions

South Africans can be for­given for sti­fling a barely con­cealed yawn at the prospect of yet an­other jobs sum­mit, this one con­vened un­der the clean­sweep broom of Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa. Strate­gies, in­ter­ven­tions, plans, master plans, blue­prints — this is fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory. These jam­borees, typ­i­cally at­tended by the usual tri­umvi­rate of “busi­ness, gov­ern­ment and labour”, usu­ally end with ring­ing dec­la­ra­tions, the im­port of which is that thou­sands of jobs will be “cre­ated”. At the risk of sound­ing a jaun­diced note amid the op­ti­mism evinced by sum­mit-go­ers, one has to ask whether such events are not just a con­ve­nient mask for the sad re­al­ity, which is that while gov­ern­ment-con­vened sum­mits plan jobs, the very same gov­ern­ment is hard at work en­sur­ing by its ac­tions or lack of ac­tion that un­em­ploy­ment re­mains stub­bornly high, es­pe­cially among the youth.

Some years ago, then fi­nance min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han had to fight all com­ers in an at­tempt to in­tro­duce a “youth wage”, with the unions fear­ing it would dis­place older work­ers in favour of younger, cheaper ones. Per­haps one can hardly blame Cosatu for want­ing to pro­tect the liveli­hoods of older work­ers. But it was in­struc­tive that an ini­tia­tive aimed at al­le­vi­at­ing youth un­em­ploy­ment was re­sisted, not wel­comed.

In vir­tu­ally ev­ery sec­tor ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing jobs, but which has not, the dead hand of gov­ern­ment is never far away. In min­ing, SA has lost out on suc­ces­sive min­er­als booms and jobs wind­falls be­cause of a fo­cus, close to ob­ses­sion, with a min­ing char­ter that, in truth, will ben­e­fit few be­yond a wealthy elite.

What about agri­cul­ture? Sure, but not with­out a land-re­form agenda that would scare the khaki socks off any boer. Tourism? Sure, but let’s make vis­i­tors jump through hoops be­fore they can set foot in our coun­try. Labour? Yes, there’s plenty of it, but only to be em­ployed un­der con­di­tions that only the fan­ci­est of cor­po­ra­tions can af­ford.

So that is the hard truth: pan­der to mid­dle-class vot­ers with pop­ulist-style prom­ises that sound mod­ern but which leave mil­lions with­out work and hope. Or grasp the net­tle, for­get the fancy stuff, and free our job-cre­at­ing sec­tors from the shack­les of so­cial­ist pop­ulism. Given the need for jobs, one might have thought that was a no-brainer.

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