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Last week, economist Mike Schüssler posed an intriguing question: how is it that only 43% of South Africans between 15 and 64 have a job (16.2-million people), yet 68% of that demographic (25-million people) are "credit active"? In others words, how can there be 9-million people who don’t have jobs, yet qualify for loans? This scenario has the makings of the sort of epidemic SA hardly needs, when it’s already facing a crisis of unemployment. If people are getting loans they can’t hope to repay (unless they get a new loan to do so), it’s the textbook definition of a debt trap. Well, there is an answer, of sorts, to Schüssler’s question, even if it’s a bit grubby. It’s the behaviour of microlenders like Net1 UEPS, Capitec, and their rivals. Net1, in particular, has been making millions "lending" to the 17-million people surviving on social grants. For years, it had the contract to administer the grants (which was awarded unlawfully, the courts found). But it also sold microloans, fune...

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