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Country analysis > South Africa Last update: 2020-11-27  

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Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference Church and Work Office
The Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference Church and Work Office

Work for Everyone: the way of solidarity and justice

Report on the 2002 Unemployment and World of Work Survey

Posted with the permission of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference Church and Work office
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The challenges of increasing globalisation have a profound impact on the economic circumstances and policies of many countries. As employment contracts are becoming less secure, job losses are on the increase. The devastating effect of rising unemployment is felt not only by the affected individuals, but also their families and the greater communities. This is a particular concern for developing countries like South Africa, but applies to many economies around the world.

One of the great promises of the post-apartheid era was economic empowerment. For the majority, empowerment meant the opening of a range of opportunities to improve their lives. For youth and the employed there was the promise of skills and career paths that were previously blocked due to racial discrimination. For the unemployed, there was the expectation that massive RDP-inspired public works projects would deliver jobs as well as eradicate apartheid service backlogs. But today, despite proclamations of the South African “miracle” and government’s intentions to become “world class”, few people have managed to ride the wave of economic empowerment.

High levels of unemployment are arguably creating a national crisis for South Africa. Figures released by Statistics South Africa in March 2002 show that the official level of unemployment rose by 3.1% from 26.4% in February 2001 to 29.5% in September 2001. These official figures exclude ‘discouraged job seekers’, i.e. people without jobs who have ceased active attempts to secure employment.

In the belief that South Africa is facing a social crisis with deep moral implications, the Catholic church feels the responsibility to develop an informed response to enable it to act. This is in accordance with the social teachings of the Church, as expressed by Pope Paul VI: “It is the responsibility of the local Christian community to analyse with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country, to shed on it the light of the Gospel’s unalterable words and to draw principles of reflection, norms of judgement and directives for action from the social teachings of the Church”.

In order to empower the Church to make a meaningful contribution on moral and ethical issues affecting the world of work and in particular the unemployed, the Church & Work office and the Justice & Peace department of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) sponsored and conducted the World of Work and Unemployment survey. The survey was conducted in 60 communities all over South Africa which are broadly representative of the types of communities the Church is active in. While the findings of the survey are not nationally representative of the unemployment situation in South Africa, they nevertheless provide a detailed insight into the lives of the communities which were the subject of this research.


Working jointly with Justice and Peace from June to October 2001, the Church & Work office conducted training workshops at Archdiocesan level covering the length and breath of South Africa, covering all nine provinces. Here Justice and Peace fulltime workers and volunteers were trained to carry out the survey. Four national training workshops were conducted that included mock surveys and resulted in the fine-tuning of the survey after each training event. This was a grassroots oriented research project which involved hundreds of unemployed youth across the country. These younsters were trained in surveying techniques and then went into their own communities to gather information. While the report may not be a statistically radom sample that we often see from Stats SA or the HSRC, the scope of the study and the spirit of the findings are difficult to contest.

The volunteers went into 60 different communities across the country. They avoided the usual suburban or institutional comfort zones of researchers, focusing on urban and rural working class communities, mainly townships and informal settlements. While selection criteria were not random, there were requirements in terms of the profile of interviewees in each community, for example half had to be between the ages 16 to 35 and half had to be female.

At the same time poor communities were selected on the basis that these communities were representative of similar communities in surrounding areas. The survey was then carried out over the next 6 months with follow up workshops being carried out throughout the country. The survey was finally completed in March 2002. The findings were then put together and analysed by a reputable research agency, called Community Agency For Social Enquiry (CASE).

Aims of the Survey

Believing that South Africa faces a crisis of unemployment, aided by the proliferation of insecure work, and starvation wages, we felt the need for the Church to respond in an informed way. We set out to empower the Church to make a meaningful contribution on moral and ethical issues affecting the world of work and in particular the unemployed. The aims of the survey were to:
  • See how people survive, being aware of increasing unemployment and the growing burdens placed on the working poor.
  • Act as an economic literacy tool by engaging both the National office of Justice and Peace (J&P) and the local J&P networks, and thereby assimilating our programme with that of J&P’s focus on economic justice. The survey was thus used as both a poverty indicator and an awareness building exercise.
The aim of the survey was not to establish levels of unemployment as this is well documented, but rather to find out how unemployed people and the working poor survive.


This report marks the first popular based national assessment of unemployment as it affects the poor, offers some remarkable insights into what the poor themselves want to be done about the problem of unemployment, and provides a powerful tool for more effective work in this regard. The report will give confidence to all mass based civil society structures that ordinary people can produce highly effective technical and policy information through collaborative action. We hope that it will stir discussion, raise awareness, and lead to solidarity action.

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