The YES gambit for 2019 SA elections

Posted on April 1, 2018


The 2019 general election campaign is well and truly underway. That, in any event, is the way many within the labour movement assess the latest economic and jobs growth statements by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“Monopoly capital” — with skin colour implied, but not mentioned — was Ramaphosa’s initial target in a promise this week to “deracialise ownership and control of our economy”. It was part of “radical economic transformation”, he told a meeting of the tripartite National Economic Development and Labour Council.

Such transformation, he noted, includes measures to “build of an army of black business” and change “the ownership structure of the economy”. This is obviously desirable in a racially skewed economic system. However, merely changing the complexion of the employers is certainly not going to either grow the economy or create jobs.

Ramaphosa knows, as well as anybody else, that the effect of melanin is on skin colour and not the economy. Unless he is willing to take on a long-time labour demand for collective, worker, control of the ownership structure of the economy (certainly not his intention), his words amount to mere politicking.

The same applies to the promise to this year implement a Youth Employment Service‚ which Ramaphosa maintains has the potential to “revolutionise the absorption of young people into the labour market”. Working together with business and elements of the labour movement — the “social partners” — Ramaphosa promises to “place a million unemployed youth in paid internships over the next three years”.

Lack of educational qualifications or experience will be no bar: the scheme will be open to all young men and women between the ages of 18 and 35. As such, it is geared to appeal to this crucial voting demographic where unemployment is estimated at above 60%.

The elementary question most workers ask is: who pays? The answer: the employers, who will be given “tax incentives” to hire young “interns”.

What this means is that, at no real cost, employers will be able to hire additional young workers for a limited period. Ultimately, however, it will be the fiscus and, therefore, the working taxpayer, who will foot the bill.

The next obvious question: in the one year internship proposed, what experience will the young people obtain to make them more employable? Especially in a world of increasing automation?

There are a limited number of jobs available for plumbers, welders and other artisan areas specialities, but these require much more than a one-year internship to reach proficiency. Short of jobs requiring many years of education and training — engineering, medicine etc — what jobs are today readily available and in what numbers?

According to Ramaphosa and his supporters, the experience of an internship could prepare young people to “start their own businesses”. Perhaps these siren songs should include what businesses are not already over-subscribed and mention that the overwhelming majority of business start-ups fail — and not for lack of trying.

A scheme of this kind is also not unique. There have been similar schemes in the past and some are now underway. But all, like emergency public works programmes, are stop-gaps that compound the frustration of long-term unemployment and dead-end work.

At the end of a year of low-paid labour, young workers emerge with, perhaps, a reference or certificate and no job. Here is yet more fuel to the ticking time bomb of dissatisfaction.

The same applies in areas such as restaurants and fast-food outlets where work is usually hard, monotonous and poorly paid. As the buyer of the MacDonalds chain, Ramaphosa should have a better understanding of this than most.