Despite the promises made in the last State of the Nation address, the giant funds set up, the economic growth path outlined, the Obama-like bailouts and incentives to certain industries, it’s not about to rain jobs. It is the fourth month of the year and the job opportunities created remain invisible. South Africa has, admittedly, a three-year timeframe within which to create 750 000 jobs or job opportunities — aiming for 5 million jobs in 10 years. But it all begins this year – we’ve been told. Has this not been declared the year of job creation, the year of jobs, jobs and more jobs? Is this not the year of presidential job-creation summits?
All indications are that jobs will continue to be as scarce as sea water in the Limpopo province. This does not look like the year of jobs we have been promised. Instead it is turning out to be “the year of the list”.
Think of the controversies generated by the forthcoming May 18 local government election lists for the ruling party. The list has become the most prominent election issue. Instead of waiting for the jobs rain, a section of South Africa’s 24% unemployed has realised that to be on the candidate list is to find a job. Not just one job but several jobs in one — for the individual concerned and for other comrades, especially those who help in mounting vigorous protests in favour of one’s candidacy.
But the local elections candidate list is not the only list in town. The list of lists is endless. Check the website of your municipality. You are likely to find a page on “housing waiting list” sometimes euphemistically called “housing backlog” — a favourite word of the current minister of human settlements. One city mayor suggested that such is the length of the housing waiting list in their city it might take 20 years to serve everyone.
There are the hospital waiting lists for patients — awaiting drugs and/or surgery. Think especially of those on the waiting list for HIV treatment, many of whom sadly die waiting. There are the millions on the waiting lists for driver’s licence tests. Think of the list of learners who drop off along the journey from Grade 1 to Grade 12, which is up to 60% of them. Add to that the list of those who drop out of tertiary institutions. And the lists of communities and households waiting for water, electricity and toilets! In 2007 it was reported that nearly 3 million of the 7 million young South Africans between the ages of 18 and 24 were not employed or receiving any formal education. Any wonder so many young people are available for deadly mischief and for protests?
There are, of course, more “juicy lists”. The list of tenders and tender winners. The Johannesburg Stock Exchange listings. Lists of black economic empowerment compliant companies. The list of those awaiting delivery of their imported luxury cars. The list of South African celebrities. The list of plotters seeking to topple our beloved president. The list of millionaires and billionaires — 31 billionaires in South Africa in 2010.
Now contrast that list of billionaires with the more than 20 million South Africans — forgotten in rural South Africa and packed like sardines in the squalor of peri-urban squatter camps. To my mind, the list we should all be concerned with is the “list of the least” — the list comprising the majority of the citizens in this country. Unless we boost the education system, rural development strategies, job creation schemes, entrepreneurship levels, service-delivery levels and unless we close the gap between rich and poor and close it fast, we’re in trouble. We might as well start preparing for our own Tunisia day.