SA Unemployment Rate

27.7 %.

The figure managed to surface through the shock of 200,000 leaked e-mails, the presidential parliamentary debate, the oppositions clamour for the fall of our president.


South Africa’s official unemployment rate, is felt largely amongst young people between the ages of 15-34 who if they remain unemployed become unemployable. Amongst this group, young African women are the least likely to connect meaningfully into the job market. In a week when violence against, and the rights and equalty of women has dominated debate, this small number is enormous. Because it marks a structural inability for women to move out of their current circumstances and earn an independent income that enables them to make choices.

Of course the shadow conversation is the unofficial unemployment rate which is put at 50%, with one in two young people able to find work. With a political system paralysed by controversy and dissent, and formal businesses putting the brakes on growth in an era of ratings downgrades, we have to look outside of our typical systems if we want to catalyse growth and achieve meaninful change.

There is nothing more opposite and a-typical than the model of social enterprise, which blends the competing forces of profit and purpose. Social enterprises take the best that business has to offer – its focus on generating an income and its systematic approach to managemet and governance and blends this with the service-delivery values of charities. Social enterprises exist to serve a common cause that benefits society: their mission statements are declarations of good intent, as they deliver products and servcices that tackle the almost impossible to grasp complexities of poverty and inequality. But instead of relying on donations, they earn an income charging for their services, converting beneficiaries to consumers are are active in the process.

South Africa’s social enterprise sector is thriving: Organisations like Reel Gardens which sell seed strips in our high-end grocery stores to support food secruity work in water-scarce provinces. Or GIBS graduate Dr Dulcy Rakumakoe whose wellbeing clinics offer affordable healthcare in communities where clinical support is weak. Or Amabhungane, the independent media outlet that exists to strengthen our democracy, and syndicates its investigative journalism work.

Formal business cannot transform our unemployment rate – even if we were growing at 3% (which we’re not) this would only translate into XXX jobs, which barely touches the reality of 9million unemployed.

The gem of social enterprise is that these are organisations set up in communities where access to market and work opportunities is weak. Social enterprises by their nature spot opportunity where others see failure – in poor education, health-care and employment. By building small businesses in our hard to reach communities, we start building the numbers of those employed, and the opportunities of those exposed to work.

And there are knock on effects –we start stemming the work-seeking in urban areas by building opportunities out of them. We stretch the value of that hard-earned-rand in that community, strengthening its value. We shift dependency and stregthen service delivery where it is weak.


Our unemployment rate is not something to be ignored. We already experience the social dissonance that it causes: our violent protests, the dissonance of our discource. Social entrepreneurship offers us the opportunity to build our base of small businesses, in a way that brings social and economic. That allows us to continue building our society outside of the political disarray.