SA deputy president correct on country’s unemployment

South Africa’s deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, recently claimed that the country has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world and that young people make up the majority of the unemployed. Both these claims are correct.

“Our unemployment rate is one of the highest in the world,” South Africa’s deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa reportedly told investors in Singapore last week.

“The key challenge here is that the majority of these people who are unemployed are young people.”

Are Ramaphosa’s claims correct? We looked at the available data.


“[South Africa’s] unemployment rate is one of the highest in the world.”



South Africa’s unemployment rate is certainly high.

The latest data from Statistics South Africa estimated that 26.6% of people in the labour force were unemployed between April and June 2016, according to the narrow definition. This refers to people who were unemployed and actively looking for work.

The broad unemployment rate – which refers to people who were jobless and who have given up looking for work – stood at 36.4%.

Why comparing countries has limitations

Comparing the unemployment rates of different countries has its limitations. The first is that a number of countries’ unemployment rates are missing from both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund datasets. For example, the International Monetary Fund’s dataset does not contain estimates for 81 countries while the World Bank’s excludes 45 countries.

The International Labour Organisation also cautions against comparing countries’ unemployment rates. This is because the data may not always be comparable: different surveys ask different questions to different people, producing different results.

That said, the latest World Bank data showed South Africa’s unemployment rate to have been 25.1% in 2014. Six countries recorded higher rates: Mauritania (31%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (27.9%), Macedonia (27.9%) Greece (26.3%), Lesotho (26.2%) and the West Bank and Gaza (26.2%).

The International Monetary Fund’s 2014 dataset included three countries with unemployment rates higher than South Africa’s estimate of 25.1%: Macedonia (28%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (27.5%) and Greece (26.5%).


“The key challenge [in South Africa] is that the majority of these people who are unemployed are young people.”



A total of 5,634,000 people were estimated to be unemployed between April and June 2016, according to the narrow definition. Of those, 3,636,000 were people aged between 15 and 34.

Based on these estimates, nearly two-thirds (65%) of unemployed people in South Africa are young people. The share stays the same for the broad definition of unemployment.

Edited by Anim van Wyk


Additional reading

FACTSHEET: Unemployment statistics in South Africa explained

Is Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate 4%, 60% or 95%? Why the data is unreliable

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