As I passed through Rosebank, Johannesburg last week heading for my optician, I noticed a new shop:, Kentucky Town. It was a KFC pop up store in celebration of the fast-food chain’s 50th anniversary In South Africa offering a special birthday menu, which included a “doughnut burger”, and a range of local designer active wear.

I was shocked. Not by the grotesquerie of this birthday meal offering but by the realization I’d been active in the formal economy for nearly 50 years.

Tell that to the young kids today and they won’t believe you.

Unemployment statistics

The statistics for the past quarter July – September show 46.6% of the population aged 15-64 is, according to the broad definition of unemployment, jobless. It’s 77.4% amongst young people between 15 to 24.

One of my paying jobs, while a student back in the 1970s, was as a night and weekend shift cashier at KFC in Cape Town.

My very first job after finishing school was behind the counter of the men’s ties department, Ground Floor, Garlicks’ Department Store., Cape Town. I celebrated and nearly blew my first cheque with a celebratory business lunch special with a fellow worker at the posh and popular Hildebrand’s Restaurant.

There are young people 30 years old in Riverlea, Soweto, and Alexandra today who have never had a paying job. There are young white people who will never even be considered for a behind the counter job in a food chain or a large store.

There are many coming into the potential work force in South Africa today who will never be able or lucky enough to look back on nearly a half century of employment in the formal economy.

DA leader John Steenhuisen is correct. This unemployment rate is a ‘humanitarian crisis’.

It is not shocking or surprising, It is the current end point of a long trajectory over several decades.


Apartheid, Covid are not at the root of this crisis we are facing today. Race is a negligible issue compared to this. Climate change is unlikely to do as much damage in the future as has already been done by this steady erosion of the dignity of nearly half our population.

People – we really need to focus on the job ahead of all of us.

According to Christo van der Rheede, Executive Director of AfriSA, “Rising unemployment is the biggest driver of poverty in South Africa. Not only does it pose a threat to social stability in our country, but it also erodes the dignity of those who struggle to find a job and who are unable to feed themselves and their families. Dignity is one of the grounding values in South Africa’s Constitution. It is linked to a person’s sense of worthiness, self-esteem, self-respect and desire to rise above poverty-stricken circumstances for the better”.

Are we more active, engaged, and forceful as citizens on the issues of masks and vaccination than we are about the constantly increasing problem of jobless and unemployment?

Are we more concerned and agitated about some possible (but also possible to mitigate) bad effect on whales and marine life off our coast than we are about the disintegration of families, the criminality, the decline in morality, the stunting and deaths which flow from this actual, happening, catastrophe of joblessness?

Are we imagining all the tragedies that could befall us when the big one is upon us?

But what is to be done about it? Wailing and gnashing of teeth won’t cut the unemployment rate.

A successful economy

In an opinion piece in Politicsweb Steenhuisen set out 16 things that should be done to reroute our economy to success.

There are two which I believe are the most important, the most easily done and the most likely to halt the ever worsening trend of joblessness:

  • Make it easy for scarce skills and capital to enter and stay in South Africa
  • Scrap investment killing policies such as EWC, NHI, the Mining charter, localization.

If Cyril Ramaphosa were a quarter of the man his fans think he is he’d listen to Steenhuisen and so many others who are making similar suggestions.

But even on the backfoot, the ANC is intransigent on its idiotic policies strangling the economy. it shows no understanding of the real transformation that is needed. It speaks of revolution but it can’t even manage to begin to change its thinking.

What is needed is not the National Democratic Revolution pursued by a single, party with waning support but a Development Revolution driven by a coalition of parliamentary and political leaders, business, agriculture, and civic organisations.

What it will need is the support and ongoing pressure of active citizens. As the election turnout showed us there are fewer and fewer of them around.

Become active

Being active, according to Terrence Corrigan, writing for the IRR a couple of months ago, “requires people to exert themselves to address the problems before them. It is an injustice that the challenges have been allowed to metastasize to the proportions they have. But these are the realities with which we are confronted, and which we must confront. We cannot outsource our democracy or our future.”

The ‘hour of the active citizen’ is upon us right now.

Good King Wenceslas tried alleviating poverty with a one-time Christmas handout of wine, beer, and fuel for a single poor man.   

We can help millions, our country and ourselves by putting on the pressure and keeping the possible solutions to our problems coming thick and fast.

No silly Christmas hats this season. Thinking caps are required. Much more than a miracle is needed.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Paddi Clay spent 40 years in journalism, as a reporter and consultant, manager, editor and trainer in radio, print and online. She was a correspondent for foreign networks during the 80s and 90s and, more recently, a judge on the Alan Paton Book Awards. She has an MA in Digital Journalism Leadership and received the Vodacom National Columnist award in 2007. Now retired she feels she has earned the right to indulge in her hobbies of politics, history, the arts, popular culture and good food. She values curiosity, humour, and freedom of speech, opinion and choice.