Election silly season is toxic and needs the medicine of sober, informed social and economic analysis for sound policy-making

Promises are made by politicians to a nation that has witnessed high unemployment rates, which are deepening. File photo

Promises are made by politicians to a nation that has witnessed high unemployment rates, which are deepening. File photo

Published Feb 26, 2024


With the deepening energy crisis, it is highly unlikely to see a better employment picture this year. Therefore, the promise on jobs by politicians in an election year requires a sceptical reception.

The Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) has historically shown that in a normal year, which is not like an outlier year such as a Covid-19 year, the fourth-quarter employment increases.

This employment hike is usually accompanied by, at worst, an unemployment rate equal to the preceding quarter and, at best, one that is lower.

Unequivocally, the first quarter always has a higher unemployment rate compared with the fourth quarter. We can expect a first quarter this year that is worse than the last quarter of the year of 2023.

With the deepening energy crisis, it is highly unlikely to see a better employment picture this year. Therefore, the promise on jobs by politicians to see who will be the number one citizen of South Africa in an election year requires a sceptical reception.

This campaigning has begun in earnest, and for the next three months up to May most things will come to a standstill as we make imputations as to who will occupy that office. Campaigns are colourful events and so equally are promises to the electorate by the would-be wannabe elected. The regalia is part of the fun, and so is the song.

With all the troubles that face South Africa, political campaigns and the church seem to be that which lulls our nerves between depression and post-traumatic stress amid the country’s failures, which has left many citizens unable to make ends meet.

Both institutions have made promises to a society, which over the past six years has witnessed unprecedented load shedding, which is ongoing.

Promises are made to a nation that has witnessed high unemployment rates, which are deepening and a nation to whom also growth is promised. The best attempt at growth is that 1.3% has been pencilled in, up from 1% year on year for 2024. However, if history is to be trusted, and be the judge, we have been in that abracadabra of overstating prospective growth and underachieving dismally. This is probably one of the causes of national anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies* (see footnote on suicide helplines).

A piece of evidence that is available, but hardly explored and deserves asking the question, of why we fit the Ugandan idiom, which says if you, with partially closed palms go, what you will get is far less than what you could maximally get.

Our suboptimal planning systems and results reflect this defect dramatically in the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica). The report shows that among whites and Indians, their success rates are 69% for Indians and 76% among whites. In contrast, blacks perform at the national glory of 39%, with coloureds doing slightly better at 49%. The actual absolute numbers are equally worrying.

Of the 2 343 blacks registered for the programme, 1 432 flunk against 288 whites that fail out of 1 186. This performance by race repeats itself across different disciplines and matches what has become the deserved 30% national pass rate. When we embrace this course, as is illustrated in Saica results, the residual 10% of the population cannot conceivably carry the 90%.

The pyramid has to be the other way round, whereby the 90% can carry the woes and miseries of the 10%.

The question that the silly season that has gone into our heads must be to interrogate our real Tintswalo, not the-hoped for Tintswalo. Should we hope for such and look into the future, the Indian racial group reflect what trajectory our Tintswalo found in the failing 90% of the nation should do and what it takes to do so.

First, the Indian population and family dream and live for the education of their children, and the results show. We may argue that Indians have had some privilege relative to coloureds and blacks in terms of the pecking order of the race rules of the apartheid state.

While that could be a result of the Indians beating the odds, the evidence on starting blocks show that they were as bad as blacks and coloureds. They cracked the glass ceiling in 1953 and followed a different course. To get to 500 000 jobs a year is practically impossible with a growth of 1.6%, which history tells us is highly likely to be revised downwards when reality hits hard on the door.

Suppose the black performance of accountants was proportionately similar to that of whites, then blacks would be producing at the very least 11 000 accountants not a biblical tithe they sit on of 10%. Under those circumstances the preponderant majority could unleash both jobs and prosperity for the country. But that requires changing the entire macro-economic framework.

In the middle of February, the Economic Modelling Academy (EMA) based at GIBS, University of Pretoria, delivered its first course. In this course, debates in economic thought are explored and students have a clear view on the laws of motion of economics and the core differences emanating from different schools of economic thought.

The next course is on poverty. And in anticipation of this course of great importance, Asghar Adelzadeh, a director and chief economic modeller at Applied Development Research Solutions (ADRS) and as a lead author, has concluded work of making multidimensional poverty a forward-looking tool.

To this end, macroeconomic policy can be tested ahead of time on its implications on multidimensional poverty. This is what the silly season should be about – solid policy perspectives and not empty vows drowned in dance and song.

The silly season is one that intoxicates not just like alcohol, but does so in ways more toxic than nyaope. The only known medicine for the silly season is sober and informed social and economic analysis for sound policy-making.

Dr Pali Lehohla is a Professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg, a Research Associate at Oxford University, a board member of Institute for Economic Justice at Wits and a distinguished Alumni of the University of Ghana. He is the former Statistician-General of South Africa.

* Note: Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone. If you are in need of help contact:

– South African Depression & Anxiety Group: 0800 12 13 14

– Adcock Ingram Depression and Anxiety Helpline: 0800 70 80 90

– Lifeline South Africa: 0861 322 322