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Best and worst provinces for employment in South Africa

South Africa’s high unemployment statistics are affecting the country’s semigration patterns, as more people are moving to areas to look for opportunities that may be slightly more plentiful.

StatsSA’s most recently released Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) shows that South Africa’s unemployment rate is 31.9%.

This means that there are currently around 7.8 million active job seekers across South Africa’s nine provinces looking for work but remaining unemployed – a rate that sees the country topping the list for the highest unemployment statistics in the world.

This does not include the expanded unemployment rate, which includes those who have given up on finding work and dropped off the grid. A more accurate assessment would be that 41.2% of South Africa’s working-age population is unemployed.

Importantly, a major contributor (although not sole) to such high levels of unemployment is the fact that many young people have been disengaged from the labour market and are not building on their skills base through education and training.

According to Stats SA, the country’s youth (aged 15 to 34, not involved in education or training) remain vulnerable in the labour market.

While the QLFS results showed that the total number of unemployed youth decreased by 174,000 to 4.6 million over the quarter, the overall unemployment rate for the segment still sits at 43.4%.

Trend of South Africa’s official unemployment rate over the past 20 years. Graph: Trading Economics. Statistics: StatsSA

Best and worst provinces

The official and expanded unemployment rate remains high, consistently sitting at over 20% in all of South Africa’s nine provinces.

Large discrepancies between the official and expanded unemployment rate in provinces persist. For example, the North West, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo, the expanded unemployment rates sit at 51.2%, 46.7%, and 45.1%, respectively.

Province Population Unemployment rate Year-on-year
Eastern Cape 7.2 million 38.8% -3.6%
Free State 3.0 million 38.5% +4.7%
Gauteng 15.1 million 33.7% No change
KwaZulu-Natal 12.4 million 29.4% -1.2%
Limpopo 6.6 million 30.8% -0.2%
Mpumalanga 5.1 million 35.5% +0.4%
Northern Cape 1.4 million 26.3% -0.1%
North West 3.8 million 38.6% -0.4%
Western Cape 7.4 million 20.2% -4.3%
Statistics: StatsSA

Such high levels of unemployment in the country’s provinces mean that people are increasingly looking for work opportunities in different parts of the country.

According to the most recent census, Gauteng, the Western Cape, North West, Mpumalanga, and the Northern Cape were the only provinces that saw a positive net migration over the past ten years.

Gauteng and the Western Cape, two economic heavyweights in the country, received the bulk of migration in-flows. This can largely be attributed to these provinces offering the largest number of job vacancies in the country.

According to CareerJunction’s most recent Employment Insights report, Gauteng has the most employment opportunities in South Africa (51%), followed by the Western Cape (23%) and KwaZulu-Natal (10%).

Notably, while Gauteng has the most employment opportunities, it still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country – showing exactly how challenging the job market is in the province.

Semigration patterns in South Africa. Source: The Outlier

Whilst all provinces showed some form of in- and out-flow, comparing the results between the two most recent censuses, Gauteng saw the largest numbers coming in from outside South Africa (+282,842), Limpopo (+161,877), KwaZulu-Natal (+100,052), and Mpumalanga (+70,811).

The Western Cape saw its largest influx from Gauteng (+25,780), the Eastern Cape (+60,082), and from outside South Africa (=110,641).

Limpopo recorded the largest negative net migration (more leaving than coming into the province) at -114,328, followed by the Eastern Cape at -62,629.

The semigration patterns can be linked to the access to (and lack of) job vacancies and economic opportunities in respective provinces.

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Recruitment opportunities per province. Source: CareerJunction

CareerJunction’s most recent report shows that the Western Cape and Gauteng show the lowest mobility of job seekers. This means that job seekers in these provinces show the lowest probability of seeking work in other provinces – linked to the province’s high employment opportunities compared to the rest of the country.

Ongoing urbanisation, fueled by economic stagnation and scarce job opportunities, drives people to provincial economic hubs – mainly Gauteng and the Western Cape.

The fewer employment and economic opportunities in a province, the more likely job seekers are to migrate to the provinces that have more abundant economic opportunities.


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