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New Left Review 58, July-August 2009


R. W. JOHNSON

FALSE START IN SOUTH AFRICA

In South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994 the ubiquitous posters of the African National Congress read ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’ and ‘A Better Life for All’. The latter slogan is trotted out at each succeeding election; the former has never been seen again. The reason is simple: unemployment is now far higher than in 1994 and heading sharply upwards. On the most commonly used measure, the jobless figure has hovered in the 38–40 per cent range for some time; though even that counts people as employed if they have but a single hour’s paid work (say, washing and polishing a car) in a week. On any reasonable measure of formal employment, over half the working population is jobless. True, one must also allow for the informal sector of street vegetable and fruit sellers, car guards, hawkers and the like. But very few enter that sector except out of desperation, and it shades easily into a vast underclass of beggars, prostitutes and criminals.

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