Risenga Maluleke. Picture: SIYABULELA DUDA
Risenga Maluleke. Picture: SIYABULELA DUDA

Statisticians take pride in presenting dispassionate analysis of data. 

For SA’s own statistician-general, Risenga Maluleke, it must be difficult to put on a poker face when he tells reporters almost every quarter since he took over in 2018 that more and more South Africans are losing their jobs.

Unmoved by politics, his team boldly captures a raft of employment numbers and goes a step further to explain them to the extent that even the most ineffective government can see what is wrong with the rainbow nation.

The picture he painted on Tuesday is yet another heart-wrenching reminder of the size of the problem President Cyril Ramaphosa has staked his political reputation on solving.

What we have seen since Ramaphosa won a closely contested internal party election in 2017 is an ANC at war with itself.

With no prospect of improvement in the country’s economic growth forecasts, even the most optimistic among us would have to admit that Ramaphosa, without a coordinated national action plan, is doomed to fail.

With constant reminders to reporters that he is not a politician but an unflustered mathematical scientist, Maluleke unveiled data that showed the quarterly unemployment rate jumped to nearly 29%, the highest level since the 2008 global financial crisis — considered by many economic experts as probably the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

That figure equates to 6.7-million people actively looking for jobs — an alarming number. But, it gets worse: the number tops 10-million, nearly a fifth of the entire population of the country, if Maluleke includes discouraged job seekers.

In June, the ANC declared unemployment a national emergency. The statement was welcomed but it is difficult to visualise the governing party pulling together in support of their elected leader, Ramaphosa, to put millions of people, particularly the youth, into jobs.

What we have seen since Ramaphosa won a closely contested internal party election in 2017 is an ANC at war with itself.

Some in the party are behind Ramaphosa’s efforts to revive the economy and create jobs, but others, believed to be led by the ANC’s secretary-general, Ace Magashule, are determined to advance former president Jacob Zuma’s radical economic transformation, a vaguely defined economic plan to tackle racial inequality.

It is true we have had many false dawns since Ramaphosa took over from Zuma in 2018. Some of them are simply down to his lack of decisive action in plucking low-hanging fruit, such as fast-tracking the allocation of radio frequency spectrum and bringing policy stability to the mining industry.

It is a no-brainer both politically and economically: freeing up the airwaves would give the likes of Vodacom, Telkom and Cell C commercially sound reasons to deploy high-speed networks that will help bring down data prices. 

Secondly, Ramaphosa should have moved quickly to provide a clear policy direction on the mining charter.

The charter, which is now regarded by the department as a quasi-legislative document that a minister can change at any time and put in any clauses the department fancies, is partly the reason some of the biggest mining companies are choosing to pay hefty dividends rather than use that money to invest in local mines.

The bitter internal battle within the ANC is not helping Ramaphosa’s cause. He is preoccupied and distracted. If he is not soothing investors’ nerves about the mandate of the Reserve Bank because the Zuma faction thinks it is an elegant way to revive the economy, he has to attend press conferences, and brief lawyers in an attempt to defend himself against public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s accusations.

Mkhwebane denies being a proxy to the Zuma faction, but she probably understands why it is easy to come to that conclusion. On Sunday, her office launched an investigation into renewable energy contracts signed by Eskom in April 2018.  The signing of the contracts had been blocked during Zuma’s administration, with their finalisation one of the first administrative actions taken by Ramaphosa.

According to the government, the projects could create more than 114,000 full-time jobs over the construction and 20-year operation period. It is a small number but if more efforts like this could be derailed by reckless statements on the Bank and investigations that are likely to be slammed as nonsensical, Maluleke will be presenting another gloomy set of numbers in the third quarter.