South Africa is facing unprecedented levels of structural unemployment, threatening peace and national security. This chronic problem has its foundations in colonial and apartheid-era laws which propagated a separatist development approach, favouring White people over other races, and leading to intergenerational poverty, inequality and unemployment. However, despite the latter being a national challenge, women and youth bear the brunt of South Africa’s structural unemployment challenge. The efforts of the government to address the structural unemployment problem through several economic policies and strategies has yielded limited results. One of these strategies is a Public Works Programme (PWP) introduced in 1996 which was later expanded into a Public Employment Programme (PEP), the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), in 2004 to provide temporary employment relief to the vulnerable and unskilled, focusing mainly on women, youth and people living with disabilities.
This thesis analyses the effectiveness of the EPWP in contributing to solving the country’s unemployment challenge, especially among women and youth. The study uses a mixed approach to determine the active participation of women and youth in the EPWP and their chances of transitioning into the labour market. It also traces former EPWP participants to establish the extent to which they had integrated into the labour market and the challenges they encountered in accessing full-time employment opportunities. The study also solicited the views of the EPWP officials to get information which is not captured in the programme’s official reports. The analytical procedure involved document analysis, focusing on EPWP reports from phases One (1) to Three (3) of the programme, parliamentary, media and general labour market reports.
Primary data was collected from the EPWP participants in townships in the Sol Plaatje Local Municipality (Roodepan, Greenpoint and Veregenoerg townships) and villages in the Joe Morolong Local Municipality (Gamothibi and Glenred). Former EPWP participants from Kimberley townships were also traced from the various provinces they have relocated to in search of employment opportunities. The EPWP officials in Kimberley and Kuruman at various government spheres also took part in the study to share their views. Issues of relevance at the national level were solicited from the EPWP officials at the EPWP Head Office in Pretoria.
This study demonstrates the magnitude and the uniqueness of South Africa’s unemployment crisis that has left women and youth severely marginalised. The analysis shows that, in its current form and size, the EPWP falls far short of providing the much-needed temporary employment relief to women and youth. The employment needs in the country are more than four (4) times what the EPWP can provide. In addition, the EPWP skilling and reskilling interventions are inadequate, resulting in limited transition of the participants to full-time employment or self-employment. The study makes two (2) propositions (1) the need to find a middle ground between Keynesian Model and the Neoliberalism approach to solve the country’s unemployment challenge because independent policies for government or markets are inadequate. (2) A new design for the EPWP which separates job seekers from social protection beneficiaries. This will enable streamlining of support and thereby ensure that the programme achieves its goal of building the country’s capacity in the post-apartheid era as pronounced during its launch.
However, this thesis acknowledges the size and the complexity of the country’s challenges. The injustices of the past that are too structured and deeply rooted, so the responsibility given to the EPWP may be too much for one programme to solve. The country’s public sector challenges such as inefficiency, lack of accountability and poor administration all impede the success of government interventions. In mapping the way forward, this thesis urges that government performance challenges be addressed because their continued existence sabotages the targeted objectives of the pro-poor policies. The EPWP needs its own policy response that specifically addresses the structural unemployment challenges of women and youth. Otherwise, in its current form, the programme remains a low tier poverty trap.
Thesis (PhD (Development Studies))--University of Pretoria, 2021.