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Unemployment and AIDS: The Social-Democratic Challenge for South Africa

Year: 2003
Working paper number: 043
Author: Nattrass, Nicoli

There are two major economic and social security challenges facing South Africa: addressing large-scale unemployment and the AIDS pandemic. As of 2003, an estimated 14% of all South Africans were HIV-positive, with over a thousand people dying each day of AIDS. According to the government household and labour-force surveys conducted from the mid-1990s onwards, about a third of the labour force is without work (Nattrass, 2000a). This amounts to about 4.7 million people and it is, without question, a socio-economic crisis of major proportions. The life-chances and living-standards of entire households are compromised when working-age adults cannot find employment (Seekings, 2003b). Households burdened by AIDS are in an especially difficult position (Desmond et al 2000, Steinberg et al 2002a, 2002b; Booysen, 2002; Booysen et al, 2002).  Addressing AIDS and unemployment poses major challenges for social solidarity in South Africa. Over the past decade, the labour-market and industrial-policy environment has benefited relatively high-productivity firms and sectors (Nattrass, 2001). Business thus had strong incentives to reduce dependence on unskilled labour, and once the price of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) started to fall from 2001 onwards, to supply it, either directly or indirectly through medical aids, to their increasingly skilled workforce (Nattrass, 2003). Those without jobs had neither access to earned income nor life-prolonging medication.

Publication file: wp43.pdf