Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! Promises! Promises! Promises!

William Saunderson-Meyer on 25 years of unrealised ANC manifesto commitments


In 1994, the slogans on the African National Congress’s first ever election posters were Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!, Let’s Get South Africa Working, and Jobs, Peace, Freedom.

The bold pledges of “peace and freedom” have been pretty much fulfilled. At least, they are if one glosses over increased criminal and public violence and recent moves to restrict private property rights.

Jobs, well, not so much success. And, as a long-suffering citizenry knows, for the many indolent cadres who snaffled jobs in the public service, “working”, alas, remains an alien concept.

The 1994 undertaking was to create between 2m and 5m new full-time jobs. In addition, there would be part-time employment and training of “about 2.5m people over the next 10 years” through a national public works programme, “building roads and providing water, electricity, schools, clinics, housing and meeting other needs”.

It didn’t work out like that. While joblessness briefly fell sharply, work creation soon ran out of steam and with the economy making heavy weather, by mid-1997 the unemployment rate was hitting new highs. Since then, the rate has only twice momentarily dropped to what it was when the ANC first gained power.

That hasn’t discouraged the ANC spinners of fairy tales.

In the 1999 election, the ANC promised to halve unemployment within 10 years. That would have meant almost 7m new jobs. It didn’t happen.

In 2004, despite narrowly defined unemployment having grown from 16.5% in 1995 to over 25%, the ANC implausibly claimed to have created 2m new jobs. It again promised to halve unemployment, although it cannily no longer committed itself to a date, as well as to provide 1m “job opportunities” — a cruel bureaucratic euphemism for brief, low-skill, casual work.

In the Thabo Mbeki years there was at least smidgeon of realism. The 2004 manifesto conceded that although the ANC was able to conjure “some employment” through public service jobs and public works programmes, “long-term employment depends largely on higher rates of private investment”. South Africa would have to become “more productive and globally competitive”.

In 2009, under the fantasist Jacob Zuma, reality started mattering less. The ANC boasted that it had created half a million new jobs per year since 2004. Given this success, going forward the emphasis would be on creating “decent” jobs and, following the supposed worldwide failure of neoliberal policies, this would be achieved under the guidance of the “developmental state” model, a la China.

In his 2010 state of the nation (SONA) address, Zuma said that the SA economy was now “creating jobs rather than shedding them” and the process would be accelerated by expenditure of R846bn on public infrastructure over the next three years.

In 2011, the New Growth Path was launched, with the projection of 5m magical new jobs by end 2020, which would reduce unemployment to 15%. 

In 2014, the emphasis in the ANC election manifesto was on the public works programme, which would create 6m job opportunities by 2019 — a six-fold increase over Mbeki’s modest but unfulfilled promise of five years earlier — “many of which will be of a long duration” — as well as 275,000 real, full-time jobs. As it turned out, this promise preceded a period of economic decline that culminated in the highest unemployment levels that SA has ever seen.

In the 2017 SONA, Zuma promised to deliver 6m job opportunities by March 2019, with an additional 1m jobs created specifically for youths, as well as 61,000 jobs through environmental programmes like Working For Water.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2018 SONA was more sobering. SA had created jobs, he said, “but not at the pace required to absorb new entrants to the labour market”. In plain English, employment levels were deteriorating.

The 2019 ANC manifesto promises to create 270,000 real jobs a year, by boosting the economy with R1.2 trillion in new investment. Coincidentally, the manifesto launch coincided with the release of the latest Spectator Index, which identifies SA’s youth unemployment rate as the world’s highest, at 52.8%.

In absolute numbers, there were 6m people out of work when the National Development Plan was formulated in 2012, pledged to slashing unemployment to 6% by 2030. The number of unemployed currently exceeds 9m.

Since the economically most successful period of ANC governance was the neoliberal Mbeki years, how does Ramaphosa’s “new dawn” ANC intend to deliver on a quarter century of broken promises? By heavy-handed state interference, of course: expropriate land without compensation; possibly nationalise the reserve bank; and investigate forcing financial institutions to place a prescribed percentage of investor and retirement funds in government-designated “social and economic development”.

It is difficult to imagine that in 1994 when the average ANC’s voter responded to the Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! poster, he or she had in mind getting a twice-a-year “work opportunity” to weather the elements at the side of a potholed road for three days, rotating a STOP/GO sign for impatient motorists. However, given the historical resilience of the ANC vote — a mere five percentage points decline over 25 years — it may well be that on a more enthusiastic turnout of its supporters, the ANC may actually improve its performance in 2019, so it really doesn’t matter.

Capital, however, has far more alternatives than labour. If the ANC goes ahead with its command economy plans, the party will preside over the biggest disinvestment in SA’s history, with companies and individual citizens scrambling to move money offshore.

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