As the country recovers from the devastation of the Coronavirus pandemic, President Cyril Ramaphosa has emphasised the need to take stock of the mammoth task of creating employment as the country’s battered economy recovers.
The President said this in his weekly newsletter, which follows on the Reconstruction and Recovery Plan he delivered during a joint sitting of Parliament last Thursday.
Amongst other things, the stimulus is expected to protect and create directly funded jobs and livelihood support interventions while the labour market recovers from the pandemic.
While some of the interventions build on the strengths of existing programmes, the stimulus also includes new and innovative approaches.
This includes a focus on what we have termed ‘social employment’.
“We are working from the premise that there is no shortage of work to be done to address the many social problems in our society. The aim is to support the considerable creativity, initiative and institutional capabilities that exist in the wider society to engage people in work that serves the common good. This work cuts across a range of themes, including food security, ending gender-based violence, informal settlement upgrading and much more,” said the President on Monday.
This will supplement the efforts of the public sector, allowing for greater scale and social impact as well as new forms of partnership with diverse social actors.
The stimulus includes a new national programme to employ teaching and school assistants in schools. Schools are making these appointments right now, delivering new opportunities in every community across the length and breadth of the country.
He said that public employment is not just for unskilled work as it has a cross-cutting focus on graduates, with opportunities for nurses, science graduates, artisans and others.
The stimulus will also protect jobs in vulnerable sectors that have been hit hard by the pandemic.
Support will be provided to Early Childhood Development practitioners, mainly self-employed women.
Over 74 000 small farmers will also receive production input grants.
“Each of these is ready for implementation, and is additional to existing commitments. We have to achieve an economic recovery that is swift and inclusive,” he said.
In addition, it is critical to get as many people as possible working again as South Africa has to regain lost ground in the provision of basic services and critical infrastructure, addressing social challenges and transforming townships and rural communities.
“Public employment is an instrument that can do all of the above: creating jobs at scale in the short term while markets recover and creating social value in the process,” he said.
The President cited the example of the massive public works programme undertaken by the United States after the Great Depression in the 1930s as an example of this.
“This was not just a stimulus, but also promoted social participation and inclusion.There are several examples of innovative public employment programmes in the developing world, including in India, Ethiopia and here in South Africa.”
These programmes, he said, make a direct investment in local economies, reaching poorer areas first, supporting local small enterprises and trickling up into the wider economy.
These, he said, also promote social participation and inclusion, providing communities with the means to change their lives as they undertake new forms of work.
“In doing so, they contribute to transformation both at a local level and within broader society. Direct public investment to support employment and create economic opportunities that generate social value does more than just tackle the unemployment crisis.”
He said this was responsive as it uses the state’s resources to respond to local community needs, be it for greener spaces, food security, more early childhood development centres, or for better and more accessible roads.
“It is progressive, because it offers social protection and income security to those who face destitution because they are unable to find work. It is an investment in the future, in that it supports the broader economic recovery agenda by urgently getting our people to work on improving our national and municipal infrastructure,” said President Ramaphosa.
Impact on communities
Through the interventions in the stimulus, he said the government was creating work for those who need it, while leaving a lasting impact on entire communities.
“Like public employment programmes across the world, this employment stimulus supports and complements the critical role of the private sector in creating jobs. It is counter-cyclical, in that as the recovery advances, the scale of public employment will decline,” he said.
The work experience and skills acquired by beneficiaries of the Presidential Employment Stimulus will improve their prospects of securing formal employment.
The experience gained is also a pathway to entrepreneurial activity. Participants are expected to improve their skills and capabilities to start their own businesses, and can use the steady income provided by public employment to branch out into other income-generating activities.
“At this time of great upheaval, we would be doing ourselves no favours by making unrealistic promises that raise expectations, only to come short when they are not met. This is why each of the jobs and livelihood support interventions is fully funded, with a clear implementation plan,” he said.
The employment stimulus, he said, is not about vague commitments for some time in the future, but about jobs being created right here and now.