Towards a History of African Unemployment in South Africa: Bringing Political Economy ‘Back In’ to South African Historiography

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Seminar Date
June 5, 2013
Unemployment is a severe problem in South Africa. The official unemployment rate in South Africa rose from 24.9% to 25.2% in the first quarter of 2013. Since 2000, this rate has varied between 31.2% in March 2003 and just under 21.9% in December 2008.1 For the sake of comparison, during the same period, among South Africa’s peer BRICS nations, the rate in Brazil has varied from 4.6% to 13.1%, in Russia from 4.9% to 14.1%, in India from 3.8% to 9.4%, and in China from 3.9% to 4.3%. Out of the 200 countries in the world, South Africa had the 14th-worst unemployment rate. The only countries to have higher peak unemployment rates during this period were Angola (35%), Bosnia (46.1%), Burundi (35%), Congo (66.9%), Djibouti (59.5%), Haiti (40.6%), Kenya (40%), Kosovo (57%), Lesotho (39.3%), Macedonia (37.3%), Mauritania (32.8%), Namibia (37.6%), and Palestine (35.6%).2 The all-time record high for unemployment in the United States was 24.9% in 1933, when the Great Depression was at its worst. The South African labor force has been experiencing its own Great Depression, except to an even greater degree and for an even longer time.
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