Country Listing

South Africa Table of Contents

South Africa

Employment and Labor

Labor Force

Agricultural employment in the formal economy declined beginning in the 1970s, reflecting the trends toward mechanization in agriculture and increasing urbanization. During that time, the government also changed its definition of agricultural employment to exclude many farmers who owned small plots of land and produced primarily for subsistence or for local markets. Impressive growth in the services sector--including trade, finance, insurance, restaurants, hotels, and other business and social services--accounted for most of the jobs created during the 1980s and the early 1990s. The services sector also included the country's large domestic work force, estimated at more than 800,000 in the early 1990s.

The distribution of labor continued to change in the 1990s, in response to global and regional market factors and political change in South Africa. For example, despite the importance of mining revenues throughout the twentieth century, the mining industry employed a dwindling share of the work force--only about 7 percent in 1995, down from nearly 10 percent a decade earlier. More than 200,000 mineworkers had been laid off between 1987 and 1993, according to the industrial umbrella organization, the South African Chamber of Mines (see table 11, Appendix).

In 1994 and 1995, officials revised employment statistics to incorporate into national accounts employment in the former black homelands--which were home to almost one-half of the black South African population. With these revisions, the government estimated the national work force in mid-1995 at 14.3 million people. Unemployment statistics also were being revised to incorporate workers outside the formal economy. In 1995 the government estimated unemployment at 32.6 percent. Unofficial estimates ranged to 40 percent or higher, and officials acknowledged that the rate was as high as 47 percent in some rural areas.

Data as of May 1996