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Unemployment in South Africa, 1995--2003: Causes, Problems and Policies


  • Geeta Kingdon
  • John Knight


This paper examines an issue of overwhelming importance in South Africa--unemployment and its rise. It explains the factors behind the sharp rise in unemployment in the post-apartheid period, investigates the role of labour legislation and the system of labour market governance, evaluates the impact of the government's active labour market policies, identifies the knowledge gaps about the functioning of the labour market and draws some policy prescriptions. It analyses unemployment using household surveys spanning 1995--2003 and explains the rise in unemployment by the slow growth of the economy, and thus slow growth in the demand for labour relative to the rapidly growing supply, together with labour market inflexibility. The paper argues that if unemployment is to be tackled, it is crucial to pursue a set of policies that promote South Africa's rate of economic growth to promote job-creation, and also that labour market regulations require reconsideration, giving greater weight to the concerns of employers and investors, and to the interests of the unemployed and informally employed poor who are beyond the reach of the labour institutions but can be hurt by them nevertheless. It highlights that lack of appropriate data hinders analysis of important aspects such as entry into, exit from and duration of unemployment. Finally, the paper appeals for investigation of how active labour market policies to address unemployment--such as public works programmes, skills training programmes etc., formulated largely in the absence of local evidence--have performed. Copyright 2007 The author 2007. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Centre for the Study of African Economies. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email:, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Geeta Kingdon & John Knight, 2007. "Unemployment in South Africa, 1995--2003: Causes, Problems and Policies," Journal of African Economies, Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), vol. 16(5), pages 813-848, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:jafrec:v:16:y:2007:i:5:p:813-848

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Pauw, Karl & Leibbrandt, Murray, 2012. "Minimum Wages and Household Poverty: General Equilibrium Macro–Micro Simulations for South Africa," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 40(4), pages 771-783.
    2. Leung, Ron & Stampini, Marco & Vencatachellum, Désiré, 2009. "Does Human Capital Protect Workers against Exogenous Shocks? South Africa in the 2008-2009 Crisis," IZA Discussion Papers 4608, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Olivier Bargain & Prudence Kwenda, 2014. "The Informal Sector Wage Gap: New Evidence Using Quantile Estimations on Panel Data," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63(1), pages 117-153.
    4. Paul Mosley, 2013. "Two Africas? Why Africa’s ‘Growth Miracle’ is barely reducing poverty," Brooks World Poverty Institute Working Paper Series 19113, BWPI, The University of Manchester.
    5. Mitra, Sophie, 2010. "Disability Cash Transfers in the Context of Poverty and Unemployment: The Case of South Africa," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 38(12), pages 1692-1709, December.
    6. Nicola Branson, 2009. "Re-weighting the OHS and LFS National household Survey Data to create a consistent series over time: A Cross Entropy Estimation Approach," SALDRU Working Papers 38, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
    7. repec:spr:soinre:v:132:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s11205-016-1312-7 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Sophie Mitra, 2008. "The Recent Decline In The Employment Of Persons With Disabilities In South Africa, 1998-2006," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 76(3), pages 480-492, September.
    9. Jeremy R. Magruder, 2010. "Intergenerational Networks, Unemployment, and Persistent Inequality in South Africa," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(1), pages 62-85, January.
    10. Olivier Bargain & Prudence Kwenda, 2009. "The Informal Sector Wage Gap: New Evidence Using Quantile Regressions on Panel Data," CEDI Discussion Paper Series 09-06, Centre for Economic Development and Institutions(CEDI), Brunel University.
    11. Knight, John, 2007. "China, South Africa, and the Lewis Model," WIDER Working Paper Series 082, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    12. Chaudhuri, Sarbajit & Mukhopadhyay, Ujjaini, 2009. "Revisiting the Informal Sector: A General Equilibrium Approach," MPRA Paper 52135, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    13. Steele, Melita Z. & Shackleton, Charlie M. & Uma Shaanker, R. & Ganeshaiah, K.N. & Radloff, Sarah, 2015. "The influence of livelihood dependency, local ecological knowledge and market proximity on the ecological impacts of harvesting non-timber forest products," Forest Policy and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 285-291.
    14. Szirmai A. & Gebreeyesus M. & Guadagno F. & Verspagen B., 2013. "Promoting productive employment in Sub‐Saharan Africa : a review of the literature," MERIT Working Papers 062, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
    15. Derek Yu, 2012. "Youths in the South African labour market since the transition: A study of changes between 1995 and 2011," Working Papers 18/2012, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    16. Maria S. Floro & Hitomi Komatsu, 2011. "Labor Force Participation, Gender and Work in South Africa: What Can Time Use Data Reveal?," Working Papers 2011-02, American University, Department of Economics.
    17. Olivier Bargain & Prudence Kwenda, 2010. "Is informality bad? Evidence from Brazil, Mexico and South Africa," Working Papers 201003, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
    18. Carla Canelas, 2015. "Poverty and informality in Ecuador," WIDER Working Paper Series 112, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    19. Carlos Gradín, 2017. "Occupational segregation by race in South Africa after apartheid," WIDER Working Paper Series 073, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    20. Frederick C.v.N. Fourie, 2011. "The South African unemployment debate: three worlds, three discourses?," SALDRU Working Papers 63, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.

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