President Cyril Ramaphosa says the launch of the Presidential Employment Stimulus he announced last week marked a fundamental shift in the government’s approach to tackling unemployment.
Writing in his weekly newsletter on Monday, Ramaphosa said: “We are undertaking a far-reaching and ambitious public investment in human capital, with the state as both a creator and an enabler of jobs.
“The Presidential Employment Stimulus is unprecedented in its scale and breadth, involving a public investment of R100bn over the next three years.
“We will protect and create directly-funded jobs and livelihood support interventions while the labour market recovers from the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
Ramaphosa said the interventions were ready for implementation, and additional to existing commitments. The president said while some of the interventions build on the strengths of existing programmes, the stimulus 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, he said, was 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, upgrading of informal settlements and much more.
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, according to the president.
Ramaphosa had, during a joint sitting of parliament last Thursday, announced a R100bn fund to create 800,000 public sector jobs in the next three years.
The president tabled an “economic reconstruction and recovery plan” in response to the devastating effects of Covid-19 on the country’s economy.
He told MPs that the government had resolved to be a key driver of new employment opportunities, arguing that this has proven to be more effective in stimulating job creation during crises.
On Monday he wrote that the stimulus includes a new national programme to employ teaching and school assistants in schools, saying schools were already making these appointments and delivering new opportunities in every part of the country.
“Public employment is not just for unskilled work. There is a cross-cutting focus on graduates, with opportunities for nurses, science graduates, artisans and others,” he said.
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. More than 74,000 small farmers would also receive production input grants, he said.
Ramaphosa said the stimulus would also provide new funding for the arts and culture sector to help it back onto its feet, including support for digital content-creation and expansion of e-commerce platforms.
“This will enable artists to adapt to the new market conditions that the pandemic has imposed on us all and to seize new opportunities for growth,” he said.
“A critical enabler for wider job creation, made more important by the pandemic, is connectivity. To overcome the digital divide, the stimulus will provide affordable, high-speed broadband to low-income households through innovative connection subsidies and the expansion of free public Wi-Fi.”
Ramaphosa said SA had to achieve an economic recovery that is swift and inclusive.
“We have to get as many of our people as possible working again. We also have to regain lost ground in the provision of basic services and critical infrastructure, addressing social challenges and transforming townships and rural communities too.”
He said public employment was an instrument that could create jobs at scale in the short term while markets recover, and create social value in the process.
Like public employment programmes across the world, his employment stimulus supported and complemented the critical role of the private sector in creating jobs, he said.
“It is countercyclical in that as the recovery advances, the scale of public employment will decline.”
The work experience and skills acquired by beneficiaries of the Presidential Employment Stimulus would improve their prospects of securing formal employment, said Ramaphosa.
He said the employment stimulus was not about vague commitments for some time in the future but about jobs being created right now, and that it was a result of extensive consultation with national departments, provinces and metros to rapidly design employment programmes to be rolled out or expanded within six months.
The implementing departments and other stakeholders were rigorously assessed on their capacity to implement.
“The goals we have set ourselves are realistic, measurable and achievable, and draw lessons from past experience and international best practice.”