PRETORIA: Joblessness in South Africa has reached a record 29 per cent, the statistics office said on Tuesday (Jul 30), piling pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa's administration after it won May elections vowing to halve unemployment.
It marks the lowest level since the country's quarterly labour force survey was introduced 11 years ago and is just the latest blow to Africa's most developed economy, which has suffered through mass layoffs, rolling blackouts and contracting gross domestic product (GDP).
The country's opposition parties quickly lashed out at Ramaphosa and the ANC, saying the country had an "unemployment catastrophe" and warning that the situation was getting worse.
The country's statistics agency StatsSA said in its quarterly report that "the unemployment rate increased by 1.4 percentage points from 27.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2019 to 29 per cent in the second quarter".
"This is the highest level recorded since ... 2008," StatsSA added.
The figure rises to 38.5 per cent under the expanded definition of unemployment which includes those who have given up looking for work.
The youth unemployment rate was more than 50 per cent - nearly double the national average.
The ruling ANC party won general elections in May with its smallest majority since it led the fight against apartheid rule that was replaced by multi-racial democracy in 1994.
Ramaphosa, who came to power last year, campaigned promising to revive the economy after the scandal-tainted presidency of Jacob Zuma.
Shortly after the election victory, the ANC vowed to halve unemployment to 14 per cent in the next five years.
Last month Ramaphosa said the youth unemployment rate was "a national crisis that demands urgent, innovative and coordinated solutions".
Some 49,000 jobs were lost during the second quarter of this year, with the mining, transport, construction trade and banking sectors shedding the most jobs.
South Africa's banks, mining and construction sectors have in recent months signalled mass layoffs as GDP contracted by 3.2 per cent in the first three months of 2019, the largest quarterly drop in about 10 years.
Analysts say the latest figures did not come as a surprise, primarily due to the slowing economy.
"It was not at all unexpected," said independent labour analyst Terry Bell.
"We are in an incredibly worrying situation globally where more than half of our working population is effectively unemployed and the majority them are young people under the age of the age of 25," said Bell.
"From a social point of view it is extremely volatile," he said, adding that "we are probably worse off now than we have ever been".
The radical leftist opposition Economic Freedom Fighters decried "the highest number of unemployed people in the history of South Africa".
"The reality is that under the ANC and Ramaphosa's leadership, South Africa's economy will continue to shrink, jobs will be lost, poverty will deepen, the poor will get poorer whilst the rich get richer," the EFF said in a statement.
Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the main opposition party Democratic Alliance, said "the unemployment crisis has now turned into an unemployment catastrophe, with no clear plan from the Ramaphosa government on how to get the economy growing".