South Africa’s unemployment is a ‘ticking time bomb.’ Anger rises with millions jobless

South Africa’s unemployment is a ‘ticking time bomb.’ Anger rises with millions jobless
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Members of the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions take part in an unemployment protest march in Johannesburg on July 6, 2023. (AP)
South Africa’s unemployment is a ‘ticking time bomb.’ Anger rises with millions jobless
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Themba Khumalo collects empty metal and plastic containers to sell and support his family in Daveyton township, South Africa, on Aug. 1, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 15 August 2023
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South Africa’s unemployment is a ‘ticking time bomb.’ Anger rises with millions jobless

South Africa’s unemployment is a ‘ticking time bomb.’ Anger rises with millions jobless
  • South Africa has the highest unemployment rate in the world, according to the World Bank, outstripping Gaza and the West Bank, Djibouti and Kosovo
  • South Africa’s GDP needs to grow by 6 percent a year to start creating enough jobs just for the 700,000 people who enter the workforce every year, says expert

JOHANNESBURG: As Lebohang Mphuthi works amid the chaos of boisterous children during a lunch break at the Omar H.S. Ebrahim elementary school in South Africa — the kids are pushing, shoving and spilling food everywhere — she can’t help but think how this is as far from her dream job as it can get.
Four years after graduating with a degree in analytical chemistry, the only work the 26-year-old has found is as a student assistant at a public school in Pretoria. Her responsibilities include handing out meals to the children and limiting the chaos as best she can.
Mphuthi’s story mirrors those of so many young South African graduates sitting at home jobless or trying to make ends meet doing fairly menial jobs in a country with a 33 percent official unemployment rate. It’s a figure badly at odds with the status of a nation meant to embody the aspirations of Africa and the developing world.
“It is demotivating and frustrating,” Mphuthi said of her battle to make progress. “You ask yourself, if we who studied are struggling to find jobs, then what about these ones who are still at school?”
In a South African context, Mphuthi might be considered lucky with the $215 she earns a month.
Analysts say the official unemployment number doesn’t even count those who have given up on finding work and dropped off the grid and that a more accurate assessment would be that nearly 42 percent of South Africa’s working-age population is unemployed.
South Africa has the highest unemployment rate in the world, according to the World Bank, outstripping Gaza and the West Bank, Djibouti and Kosovo.
When it comes to youth unemployment, the rate is 61 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds, according to official statistics, and a staggering 71 percent if you again count those who are no longer trying.
Isobel Frye, executive director of the Social Policy Initiative in South Africa, which researches poverty and unemployment, said it equates to 24 million adults out of a population of 60 million who are either unemployed or not involved in any economic activity and barely surviving.
A United Nations report on unemployment in South Africa that was delivered to Deputy President Paul Mashatile last month described the situation as a “ticking time bomb.”
“We have to ask ourselves why this was allowed to happen,” Frye said.




Lebohang Mphuthi distributes meals to children during a lunch break at the Omar H.S. Ebrahim Primary School in Lotus Gardens, west of Pretoria, South Africa, on July 25, 2023. (AP Photo)

South Africa’s GDP needs to grow by 6 percent a year to start creating enough jobs just for the 700,000 people who enter the workforce every year, according to Duma Gqubule, a financial analyst who has advised the South African government.
South Africa’s growth hasn’t approached that much-needed figure for more than a decade. Its economy — which grew by 2 percent last year — is expected to grow by less than 1 percent this year and between 1 percent and 2 percent for the next five years.
Gqubule and Frye believe there are policies that would ease unemployment but have expressed exasperation that the problem isn’t a top priority for everyone from the government to private businesses and every South African given the country’s massive problems, including poverty, inequality and an epidemic of violent crime.
“People just don’t want to talk about this crisis,” Gqubule said when he appeared on national television to reflect on the UN report.
The UN report didn’t come as a surprise. Unemployment was high 30 years ago and has been trending up. The COVID-19 pandemic ripped jobs away from more than 2 million South Africans in a devastating blow, according to government statistics. However, there were warning signs long before that.
The pandemic didn’t cause 46-year-old Themba Khumalo’s problems. He lost his job as a machine operator in 2017 and now tries to support his wife and two children by collecting metal and plastic containers anywhere he can find them to sell in bulk for recycling.
“There are too many guys sitting at home without work,” Khumalo said as he crushed some metal cans with his worn-out work boots in the backyard of his home on the outskirts of Johannesburg. He shakes his head at the insufficiency of the monthly $18 he receives in unemployment benefits. His one bright note is that neighbors often leave empty food cans outside his house for him to recycle.
One of the government’s policies to combat unemployment is helping young entrepreneurs start businesses. Pearl Pillay of the Youth Lab think-tank, which focuses on improving opportunities for young people, said new businesses aren’t getting off the ground.
“Yet that is kind of our fix-all solution to unemployment,” Pillay said.
In the Johannesburg township of Soweto, Mothibedi Mohoje’s Internet cafe is almost always busy as it mainly caters to people who need its computers to apply for jobs. Unemployed Thato Sengoatsi, 25, spends a lot of time there.




Unemployed Thato Sengoatsi speaks during an interview in Soweto, South Africa, on Aug. 2, 2023. (AP)

Sengoatsi and school assistant Mphuthi are among South Africa’s “Born Free” generation — born after the apartheid system of racial segregation ended in 1994 and who have only known a free South Africa. Their lives started in the dawn of democracy when Nelson Mandela was president and hope filled the air.
But unemployment has cast its shadow on the future of millions of South Africa’s Black majority in 2023. Sengoatsi didn’t live through apartheid, but he knows bringing it down promised something.
“The generation that came before us protested ... so that we could have a better life. But we are not getting that life, and we cannot hide that fact,” Sengoatsi said.
There’s clear desperation. When the premier of the economic hub province of Gauteng announced last month that he was offering jobs for 6,000 unemployed young people, more than 40,000 waited in the winter cold to apply. More than 30,000 were set for rejection.
And there’s anger.
Warning of how unemployment threatens the country’s stability, the UN referred specifically to a week in 2021 when riots and looting left more than 350 people dead in South Africa, the worst violence since the last days of apartheid.
But it was an extreme version of the protests rooted in poverty and joblessness that South Africa experiences almost weekly, and which see so many Black Born Frees tearing at the fabric of a post-apartheid society that also isn’t giving them a chance.
It’s a “tinderbox,” Frye said of South Africa, waiting for any spark to set it off. Like the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma, the starting point for the 2021 riots. Or a minibus taxi driver strike this month in Cape Town that caused a week of deadly violence, with many rioters not working in the same field. At the center of both those violent eruptions and most of the others, there are jobless young South Africans.
The fact that South Africa’s first generation of Born Frees — now in their mid to late 20s — are living in the country with the world’s worst unemployment rate is “the most heartbreaking betrayal of the promises and dreams of our liberation,” Gqubule wrote.
And there is concern over the future of young generations.
Mphuthi, still young herself, worries about what lies ahead for the children she cares for at the elementary school.
“We have a problem right now,” Frye said, “but we’ll have a massive problem in five, 10, 15 years’ time where it’s just unthinkable what that means for the structure of society.”
 


Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia’s south

Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia’s south
Updated 22 February 2024
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Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia’s south

Thousands ordered to flee while they can as bushfire burns in Australia’s south
  • Roughly 50 square kilometers is ablaze northwest of Ballarat
  • A similar area is also burning out of control further to the west

SYDNEY: More than two thousand people have been ordered to evacuate from towns in the west of Australia’s Victoria state due to a bushfire burning out of control on Thursday.
The state emergency service urged residents in the towns of Raglan and Beaufort, home to around two thousand people, and those in surrounding areas to leave while it was still safe and head east to the nearby regional hub of Ballarat, 95 kilometers west of Melbourne.
Roughly 50 square kilometers is ablaze northwest of Ballarat. A similar area is also burning out of control further to the west.
State Premier Jacinta Allan said more than 1,000 firefighters were on the ground, supported by 24 aircraft and more than 100 vehicles. More are set to join the fight soon.
“Leaving immediately is the safest option for those communities,” she said at a news conference. “If you are located in these areas, please heed this advice, please act now to save your own life.”
Officials said no property damage had been reported but it was too soon for an accurate picture.
Large swathes of the state are on high alert for fires and the Bureau of Meteorology on Thursday issued extreme fire danger warnings for several districts due to hot, dry winds and the potential for thunderstorms.
The fires west of Ballarat are expected to worsen throughout the evening until around midnight, when the winds will begin to slow, Jason Heffernan, chief officer of the Country Fire Authority, told the news conference.
Temperatures were above 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit) in the northwest of the state at 3.00 p.m. (0400 GMT).


In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden

In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden
Updated 22 February 2024
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In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden

In Michigan, Arab American voters vow to ‘punish’ Biden
  • As Gaza Strip death toll climbs, residents once firmly in the Democratic fold — are turning against the president in a crucial swing state he won by just 150,000 votes in 2020.

Dearborn: It’s common to hear residents chatting in Arabic just as often as English in this Detroit suburb’s stores or mosques, those buildings themselves often sporting bilingual signage out front.
But no matter the language, residents in this Arab American and Muslim stronghold in the Midwestern state of Michigan are convinced President Joe Biden, as he steadfastly stands by Israel in its war in Gaza, is not listening to them.
“Vote for Palestine. No Biden,” political organizer Samra’a Luqman says in English, passing out fliers outside a mosque after prayers.
“Don’t vote for Biden,” the activist with Yemeni origins adds in Arabic.
“Of course,” respond many passersby.
As the Gaza Strip death toll climbs, residents here — once firmly in the Democratic fold — are turning against the president in a crucial swing state he won by just 150,000 votes in 2020.
Some are hoping to pressure Biden to back off from his Israel support and call for a ceasefire. Others, like Luqman, say they would never vote for him.
“He’s committing the genocide. He’s funding it,” Luqman, a campaign leader with a group called Abandon Biden, tells AFP.
A campaign is underway by Luqman and others urging voters to vote “uncommitted,” or write in “Free Palestine” on their ballots in the state’s primary next week — a symbolic gesture, since Biden faces no serious challengers for the Democratic nomination.
“This is a campaign about pressuring our current president who can do something about the mass killing of children,” says Abbas Alawieh, a former Democratic chief of staff on Capitol Hill and member of the Listen to Michigan campaign group.
“In this community there are a lot of people who are directly harmed by war,” the Lebanese-born Alawieh tells AFP.
Biden, he says, “is threatening to lose this community. Not just in November, but perhaps for a generation to come.”
The war started when Hamas launched its attack on October 7, resulting in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
But concern has mounted amid the high civilian toll in Israel’s retaliatory campaign, now at 29,313 people dead, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.
Listen to Michigan began as a pressure campaign, but some voters say their frustration with the president is permanent.
Voting for Biden was the “worst mistake of my life,” says Mohamed Alemara, a 23-year-old medical student of Iraqi descent.
“You don’t kill 30,000 of our people and expect us to vote for you.”
Arab Americans’ vows to ditch Biden often baffle liberal political pundits.
What will Muslims and Arabs do, the thinking goes — vote for Donald Trump, the Republican behind the “Muslim ban” immigration policy, whose supporters flirt with ideas like “Christian nationalism“?
“We’re not a stupid community,” says Luqman. “I’ve survived a Muslim ban, but those kids in Gaza have not survived Joe Biden.”
“My intention is not to vote in an Islamophobe, another genocidal maniac,” she adds. Yet she tells AFP, “the only way I would vote for Biden is if he resurrected” the Gaza dead.
In America’s two-party system, where voters often hold their nose to pick candidates they don’t back 100 percent, 27-year-old nurse Fatima Elzaghir says that “at this point, the lesser evil is Trump.”
Others, like Alawieh, reject the premise of the question.
“How dare you come to me and say, ‘Oh, but later, Trump will be your fault,’” he says.
“Call your representative. Tell them you want a ceasefire.... Once we stop the bloodshed, then we can talk about the political consequences.”
Biden will also have to deal with Michigan’s unions — where some are defecting from the labor-friendly president’s camp.
Many union and workingclass voters already support Republicans, drawn in by their conservative social policies.
But for Merwan Beydoun, a steel mill worker and member of the United Autoworkers Union, Gaza was the breaking point.
“Furious” at Biden, whom the UAW endorsed, Beydoun stopped his contributions to the union’s political arm.
Beydoun says he still believes “in a lot of Democratic policies” and would rather not say how he’ll vote in November. But to earn Beydoun’s vote, the president “needs to wake up” and “change his ways.”
The Biden administration has tried to assuage Arab and Muslim voters’ concerns in part by portraying the president as frustrated with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
But US weapons have flowed to Israel since October 7, while Washington’s efforts to broker a second pause in fighting have failed, and on Tuesday the US blocked a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire.
“My intention is to punish Biden for what he’s doing now,” says Luqman. “For the betrayal that he’s done to me and all the community members that have voted for him.”


Philippine coast guard says Chinese claim of intrusion ‘inaccurate’

Philippine coast guard says Chinese claim of intrusion ‘inaccurate’
Updated 22 February 2024
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Philippine coast guard says Chinese claim of intrusion ‘inaccurate’

Philippine coast guard says Chinese claim of intrusion ‘inaccurate’
  • Located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the Scarborough Shoal is also claimed by China

MANILA/BEIJING: A Philippine coast guard official on Thursday described as “inaccurate” its Chinese counterpart’s claim that a fisheries vessel “illegally intruded” into Beijing’s waters.
The Chinese coast guard said earlier on Thursday it drove away a vessel of the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and accused them of “illegally intruding” into its waters near Scarborough Shoal.
“This statement is inaccurate. The BFAR vessel, BRP Datu Sanday, continues to patrol the waters of Bajo De Masinloc. Currently, the BFAR vessel is actively ensuring the security of Filipino fishermen in that area,” Commodore Jay Tarriela, the coast guard’s spokesperson on South China Sea issues told reporters.
Located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the Scarborough Shoal is also claimed by China, making it one of Asia’s most contested maritime features and a flashpoint for flare-ups.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion in annual ship commerce. Its territorial claims overlap with those of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
In 2016, an international arbitration tribunal in the Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.


Ukraine leader downplays loss of Avdiivka, seeks faster support

Ukraine leader downplays loss of Avdiivka, seeks faster support
Updated 22 February 2024
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Ukraine leader downplays loss of Avdiivka, seeks faster support

Ukraine leader downplays loss of Avdiivka, seeks faster support
  • Russian troops took control of Avdiivka last week in Moscow’s biggest battlefield gain since its forces captured Bakhmut last May
  • Zelensky pointed to earlier gains made by Ukraine forces, particularly in the northeastern Kharkiv region and destruction of Russian ships

KYIV: President Volodymyr Zelensky downplayed Ukraine’s loss of the eastern town of Avdiivka to Russian forces and called for faster support from allies as the war against Russia neared the two-year mark, in comments broadcast on Wednesday.

Russian troops took control of Avdiivka last week in Moscow’s biggest battlefield gain since its forces captured Bakhmut last May. Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin says Russia will press on with its drive through eastern Ukraine.
Zelensky, in excerpts from an interview with Fox News to be aired on Thursday, acknowledged that last year had been “complicated” for Ukraine, particularly as 2023 came to a close.
But, speaking in English, he pointed to earlier gains, particularly in the northeastern Kharkiv region, where the Fox interview took place.
“During these two years we got (back) part of the Kharkiv region. Now we are in this region ... and we unblocked the Black Sea. There are grain routes and we destroyed a lot of their ships of the Russian fleet,” Zelensky said.
“That is what we did over two years. And what they could do? Only this one place. But what for?“
Avdiivka lies 15 km (nine miles) northwest of the Russian-held main town of Donetsk region, also named Donetsk.
Russian analysts say its capture will keep Donetsk safe from Ukrainian shelling as Moscow considers how to pursue its drive to capture all of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
In his comments, Zelensky expressed new discontent with the slowdown in Western aid for Ukraine’s war effort, without singling out the United States.
US President Joe Biden’s request to extend a big aid package has been held up by wrangling in the US Congress.
“We have to be more quick. That means to lose all the bureaucracy. Otherwise we will not have any chance,” he said.
The president acknowledged that finding an alternative to US support would not be easy.
“Of course, we will find. We will not stay in the same place. We have to survive. We have to find some parallel steps,” he said in the interview, conducted in part on a hospital ward.
“You understand that this help is crucial. So without it, sorry, we will have more and more such heroic guys who will be in the hospitals. If you don’t have a real defending shield and similar powerful artillery with rounds, of course you will lose people.”
The US Senate has passed a $95 billion aid package that includes funds for Ukraine, but House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson has declined to bring it up for a vote on the floor of the House.


Kremlin says ‘shameful’ for Biden to call Putin ‘SOB’

Kremlin says ‘shameful’ for Biden to call Putin ‘SOB’
Updated 58 min 15 sec ago
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Kremlin says ‘shameful’ for Biden to call Putin ‘SOB’

Kremlin says ‘shameful’ for Biden to call Putin ‘SOB’
  • He had earlier said there is no doubt that the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Nalvany "was a consequence of something that Putin and his thugs did”
  • Biden tends to go off script during election fundraisers and in recent months has dug into China, the Republican Party, and Israel for its war on Gaza

SAN FRANCISCO/MOSCOW: The Kremlin on Thursday said it was a “huge shame” that US President Joe Biden had called Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin a “crazy SOB.”

Biden made the comments at a speech in San Francisco attended by a small group of reporters, in which he contrasted the risk posed by Putin to the threat of climate change.

“This is a huge shame for the country itself... for the US. If a president uses that kind of language, it’s shameful,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“It is clear that Mr. Biden is demonstrating Hollywood cowboy style behavior to serve domestic political interests,” he continued.

Biden has a history of similar hot-mic comments and has been strongly critical of Putin before, announcing in 2022 that the Kremlin chief “cannot remain in power.”

His remarks come as relations with the Kremlin linger at historic lows over the conflict in Ukraine and the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in jail.

The US President has promised to introduce tough new sanctions against Moscow over Navalny’s death, which the White House has blamed on the Kremlin.

“This is the last existential threat. It is climate. We have a crazy SOB like that guy Putin and others and we always have to worry about nuclear conflict, but the existential threat to humanity is climate,” Biden told a small group of donors.

Biden has previously cursed “son of a bitch” at others. In January 2022, he was caught on the hot mic using the same term of abuse against a Fox News White House reporter.

Biden tends to go off script during election fundraisers and in recent months has dug into the Chinese government, the Republican Party, and US ally Israel for its bombing of the Gaza Strip.

Biden’s verbal attacks against Putin have also sharply intensified at the White House and on the campaign trail.

Biden and Putin remain deeply at odds over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago, over which Russia has been sanctioned by the United States and other Western nations. Biden’s reactions have put a further chill into already bitter US-Russian relations.

Biden’s expected Republican opponent in November, former President Donald Trump, has expressed admiration for Putin both during his 2017-2021 White House tenure and afterward. However, he also recently compared himself to Navalny, implying that they both had faced politically motivated prosecutions.

“I don’t know where the hell this comes from,” Biden said on Wednesday reacting to Trump comparing himself to Navalny.