Poor timing of a raise of the minimum wage during the global recession has only complicated an unemployment problem in South Africa. A problem that was already compounded by years of apartheid. After apartheid ended, South Africa saw little growth in unskilled jobs. Now those jobs are instead decreasing because the jobs are going to other countries that have cheaper labor.
From the New York Times, writer Celia Dugger describes the scene at on textile mill closing.
The sheriff arrived at the factory here to shut it down, part of a national enforcement drive against clothing manufacturers who violate the minimum wage. But women working on the factory floor — the supposed beneficiaries of the crackdown — clambered atop cutting tables and ironing boards to raise anguished cries against it.
“Why? Why?” shouted Nokuthula Masango, 25, after the authorities carted away bolts of gaily colored fabric.
She made just $36 a week, $21 less than the minimum wage, but needed the meager pay to help support a large extended family that includes her five unemployed siblings and their children.
The women’s spontaneous protest is just one sign of how acute South Africa’s long-running unemployment crisis has become. With their own industry in ruinous decline, the victim of low-wage competition from China, and too few unskilled jobs being created in South Africa, the women feared being out of work more than getting stuck in poorly paid jobs.
In the 16 years since the end of apartheid, South Africa has followed the prescriptions of the West, opening its market-based economy to trade, while keeping inflation and public debt in check. It has won praise for its efforts, and the economy has grown, but not nearly fast enough to end an intractable unemployment crisis.
For over a decade, the jobless rate has been among the highest in the world, fueling crime, inequality and social unrest in the continent’s richest nation. The global economic downturn has made the problem much worse, wiping out more than a million jobs. Over a third of South Africa’s workforce is now idle. And 16 years after Nelson Mandela led the country to black majority rule, more than half of blacks ages 15 to 34 are without work — triple the level for whites.
“The numbers are mind-boggling,” said James Levinsohn, a Yale University economist.