Absolute number of employed people increased from 8.9 million in 1994 to 16.1 million in Q3 of 2017
Number of unemployed people grew too, as did the working age population
Unemployment rate up from 22% to 27.7%
In one of his first duties as newly-elected president of the African National Congress (ANC), Cyril Ramaphosa gave the party’s traditional “January 8th statement” in East London’s Buffalo City Stadium.
The ANC live-tweeted sections of Ramaphosa’s speech, giving a rundown of the economic gains made under the ANC-led government to its nearly 500,000 followers.
“The number of people in employment in our country rose from 8.9 million in 1994 to around 16 million today,” tweeted the account.
But do the tweet’s impressive employment numbers check out? Africa Check dug into the data to verify the claim.
Job numbers on the money
Africa Check contacted ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa to confirm the source of the 1994 statistic. By the time we published, he had not responded to our query. (Note: We will update this report should he.)
Data from Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) shows there were an estimated 8.9 million employed people in 1994, according to revised data from the October Household Survey. (Note: Previous unrevised estimates from Stats SA put the number of employed people in 1994 at 7.9 million.)
The latest employment data from Stats SA is for the third quarter of 2017. During that period, 16.1 million people were employed according to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey.
How is employment measured?
Employment figures are estimated by looking at the working population, so people between 15 and 64. Someone will be considered employed if they got some form of compensation (a wage, salary or commission) for work or if they ran a business in the week before the survey.
As mentioned in our factsheet on employment, “they will be categorised as ‘employed’ even if they only worked for an hour in that week”.
The quarterly labour force survey is conducted in 30,000 private households and worker hostels across South Africa. The results are then weighted to ensure they are representative of the South African population as a whole.
Comparing data from 1994 and 2017 isn’t as straightforward as the ANC makes out, however. While it is official employment data, Matlapane Masupye the acting manager of Stats SA’s quarterly employment statistics, cautioned against comparisons. This is because the two surveys used different methodologies, questionnaires and household sample selections.
Masupye added that coverage would be different too, as “some municipalities weren’t well demarcated”. Without a larger data series, any comparisons should be accompanied with caveats.
Job seekers more than doubled
The data shows that ANC is right on the number of employed people in 1994 and 2017.
But when comparing changes in employment across time it is more appropriate to use ratios. This accounts for the size of the workforce, a research analyst with the University of Cape Town's Development Policy Research Unit, Kezia Lilenstein, told Africa Check.
“It would be accurate to say that more people are employed in 2017 than in 1994 in absolute terms,” said Lilenstein. “However, as the population increases, it is also the case that there are now more unemployed people in 2017 than in 1994.”
Over the period the ANC mentioned, the workforce increased from 11.4 million to 22.4 million. But the number of unemployed people more than doubled - from 2.5 million to 6.2 million, using the narrow definition of unemployment.
“Therefore, it is more meaningful to look at the proportion of people who are employed in the two time periods,” Lilenstein added. Stats SA also suggests using ratios for comparisons and not absolute numbers.
The expanded unemployment rate - which includes people who want to work but haven’t looked for work - also increased over this period.
1994 October Household Survey
2017 Quarterly Labour Force Survey (Q3)
Narrow unemployment rate
Expanded unemployment rate
Conclusion: ANC misleads by focussing on number of employed, not rate
A tweet from South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress, claimed that the number of employed people in the country increased from 8.9 million in 1994 to “around 16 million”. This is supported by the data.
However, experts told Africa Check that rates are more appropriate for comparisons of this kind. Narrow unemployment increased from 22% in 1994 to 27.7% in 2017, while the expanded unemployment rate increased from 35% to 36.8%.
The ANC’s claim suggests that the employment situation has improved in South Africa since 1994. But the number of unemployed people has alsoincreased over this period and, most importantly, the narrow unemployment rate increased by 5.7 percentage points.