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.”
 


India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare, protesting leaders to expand campaign

India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare, protesting leaders to expand campaign
Updated 34 sec ago
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India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare, protesting leaders to expand campaign

India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare, protesting leaders to expand campaign
  • Farmers mostly from northern India have been attempting to march to New Delhi
  • Protesting farmers are demanding legally binding higher prices for their crops

SHAMBHU, India: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday his government is committed to the welfare of farmers and is on a mission to make them entrepreneurs and exporters, amid a protest by thousands of farmers seeking higher prices for their produce.

Modi’s comments on farmers were his first since the protests began last week and come months before general elections in which he is seeking a rare third term.

Farmers, mostly from the northern state of Punjab, have been attempting to march to the capital for more than a week as part of their ‘Delhi Chalo’ (Let’s Go to Delhi) campaign demanding legally binding higher prices for their crops, among other things.

They have been stopped 200 km (125 miles) away by police who have used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon, with talks between farmers’ leaders and federal ministers failing to produce a breakthrough.

The farmer leaders said on Wednesday they were pausing their march for two days following the death of a young protester, with authorities telling local media that the man had suffered a head injury and the cause was yet to be determined.

After a meeting on Thursday, farmers’ leaders said they had decided to launch other “mega programs” across the country starting on Friday.

Friday would be observed as a Black Day and effigies of federal Interior Minister Amit Shah and some state leaders would be burnt across the country, farmers’ leader Avik Saha told reporters.

A tractor rally would be held on highways on Feb. 26 and a farm workers’ public meeting would be held in Delhi on March 14, he added.

POLITICAL RISK

“Our government is committed to fulfill every resolve related to the welfare of our farmer brothers and sisters across the country,” Modi posted on X earlier on Thursday, and referred to a cabinet decision on Wednesday to raise the floor price that mills must pay for sugar cane by 8 percent.

The move does not benefit the protesting farmers who mostly grow rice and wheat but will help cane farmers in two other states that send the most lawmakers to parliament.

“How to better the life of the small farmer is our focus,” Modi later told a public meeting in his home state of Gujarat, without referring to the protests on the border of Punjab and Haryana states.

“We have given modern seeds to farmers...we are giving solar pumps to farmers...our effort is to get small farmers in villages to meet modern technology,” Modi said. 

“Besides making them producers, this is a mission to make small farmers entrepreneurs and exporters.”

Although the protesting farmers mostly belong to Punjab state, which has a limited footprint in parliament, analysts say Modi’s party cannot risk the campaign spreading to other states and angering more farmers, who are an influential bloc of voters, so close to the polls.

Similar protests two years ago, when farmers camped for months at the border of New Delhi, forced Modi to repeal a set of farm reform laws in what was seen as the biggest political defeat of the strongman leader.

At the main protest site of Shambhu, on the border between Haryana and Punjab states, dozens of farmers milled on and around the highway, sipping tea, cooking and collecting tear gas shells fired on Wednesday, as police kept watch.

Earlier on Thursday, social media platform X said it took down certain accounts and posts following an order by the Indian government, which local media reports say are linked to the farmers protests.
 


Indian village’s ‘book nests’ foster culture of reading

Indian village’s ‘book nests’ foster culture of reading
Updated 5 min 8 sec ago
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Indian village’s ‘book nests’ foster culture of reading

Indian village’s ‘book nests’ foster culture of reading
  • Village of 5,000 has 14 spots where residents exchange and borrow books
  • Perukulam was named the ‘first book village’ of Kerala in 2021

NEW DELHI: Dotted with outdoor bookcases, Perukulam village in India’s southwest is building its community around reading — an initiative its residents hope will help them learn and grow.

Everything started in 2017, when the village’s public library, Bappuji Smaraka Vayanasala, placed a shelf with books on one of the streets to see how people would respond.

“The inspiration came from the US-based Little Free Library, a book-sharing movement that places bookcases in public places and the Bappuji Smaraka Vayanasala library is a member of the Little Free Library,” V. Vijesh, a schoolteacher and the library’s secretary, told Arab News.

The idea was to test the village’s reading habits, which proved to be better than expected and soon more bookshelves, or “book nests,” as residents refer to them, popped up in Perukulam.

The village in Kollam district of Kerala, India’s only state with a literacy rate nearing 100 percent, has only 5,000 inhabitants and over a dozen mini-libraries.

“Today there are 14 ‘book nests’ in the village and the villagers are the stakeholders because it’s them who contribute to running the library and the library in turn maintains the nest,” Vijesh said.

The books are in the local Malayalam language, Hindi and English. Besides fiction, the volumes also cover politics and science.

The bookcases are usually located in public spaces where people can sit, meet, and talk. They can either read the books outdoors or take them home.

“It works on the concept of bring one, take one. There is a notebook, and the villagers have to make an entry while returning or borrowing a book,” Vijesh said.

The initiative has won Perukulam the attention of authorities. Kerala’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan declared it the state’s “first book village” in 2021.

It was also noticed in the literary world, with celebrated Malayalam writer Maniyambath Mukundan calling it a “unique experiment” that needed to be promoted and emulated.

“The Perumkulam village is doing remarkable work and you have committed youngsters in the village who are keen to encourage others to read,” Mukundan told Arab News.

Collections in Perumkulam’s book nests are chosen to appeal not only to the young but also older readers.

“We take special care in maintaining and running all the bookshelves,” said Akhila Mohanan, a member of the village council.

“It’s not only youngsters but elderly people also can be seen sitting on the bench reading either a newspaper or a book. Through books you evolve, and we feel as a village we are evolving each passing day.”

For Pwijitha Kalyani, a 20-year-old youth volunteer, fostering the culture of reading in her village makes her and her peers proud.

“This is the first of its kind village where books are celebrated, and everyone fancies himself or herself as a reader. This culture of book reading is important because youngsters these days try to find knowledge only through the internet and Google search,” she said.

“If you read a book, you remember its content but if you read the stuff online, you tend to forget it. So, holding a book is a magical experience.”


Syrian migrants stripped, forced back from Serbian border in new footage

Syrian migrants stripped, forced back from Serbian border in new footage
Updated 22 February 2024
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Syrian migrants stripped, forced back from Serbian border in new footage

Syrian migrants stripped, forced back from Serbian border in new footage
  • NGO condemns ‘abusive and degrading’ treatment of 50 migrants
  • Evidence of problem across continent, says Council of Europe official

LONDON: Footage of Syrian migrants in Serbia being stripped and forced back into North Macedonia has emerged, in what human rights groups warn is evidence of growing violence targeting migrants on the edges of Europe.

Legis, an NGO in North Macedonia, sent two video clips to The Guardian newspaper showing a line of semi-naked men on a road near Lojane, close to the border with Serbia.

The videos are dated Feb. 10 and show the second instance of “abusive and degrading” migrant pushbacks that day, Legis said.

In total, more than 50 migrants who crossed the border were stripped and pushed back by Serbian authorities, the NGO added.

Legis President Jasmin Redjepi said the pushback followed an EU-Serbian cooperation summit that aimed to bolster the Serbian border against people-smuggling operations.

 

 

He added: “These incidents occur when the EU prepares restrictions for migrants on the route, and in this case just days after an EU-Serbia border cooperation summit. We then see the direct impact and consequences.”

Though the stripping of migrants has taken place across Europe, the Legis footage is the first instance of the practice taking place on the Serbia-North Macedonia border.

A report by a Belgian NGO estimated that in 2023, almost 350,000 forced pushbacks took place on Europe’s external borders.

Dunja Mijatovic, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, said: “Recent reports of alleged pushbacks by Serbian police officers at the border with North Macedonia, characterized by ill- and degrading treatment and robbery of migrants, possibly including those attempting to seek asylum, require prompt and effective investigation by state authorities.”

She added that the pushbacks on the North Macedonia border are indicative of an “urgent pan-European problem,” with the practice becoming a widespread phenomenon across the continent.

“These incidents are not only disturbing, but also indicative of a wider, worrying trend among Council of Europe member states.

“These actions appear to violate the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits refoulement and collective expulsions, as well as other international standards which require ensuring genuine and effective access to asylum for those who seek it,” Mijatovic said.

“What I have observed and warned about is that migrants have been subjected to treatment that might constitute degrading treatment or torture in several European countries for years, in clear violation of states’ human rights obligations.”


UN says 14 million fled homes in Ukraine since Russian invasion

UN says 14 million fled homes in Ukraine since Russian invasion
Updated 58 min 47 sec ago
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UN says 14 million fled homes in Ukraine since Russian invasion

UN says 14 million fled homes in Ukraine since Russian invasion
  • In addition to the refugees abroad, some 3.7 million people remain displaced within Ukraine
  • The Russian invasion was the biggest of a European country since World War II

GENEVA: The UN said Thursday more than 14 million people had fled their homes in Ukraine during the two years since the Russian invasion, with nearly 6.5 million now living outside the country as refugees.
Reflecting on the February 24 second anniversary of the full-scale invasion, the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that in addition to the refugees abroad, some 3.7 million people remain displaced within Ukraine.
Over 4.5 million people have returned home to date, from either abroad or displacement within the country.
In total, more than 14 million people — nearly one third of Ukraine’s population — have fled their homes at some point during the war.
“The destruction is widespread, loss of life and suffering continues,” IOM director general Amy Pope said in a statement.
“IOM commends the government of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people for their strength and resilience, as well as Ukraine’s neighbors who are taking in those seeking safety. We remain fully committed to alleviating human suffering and helping recovery.”
The United Nations agency said it had supported 6.5 million people in Ukraine and across 11 countries in eastern Europe hosting refugees.
“As the war enters a protracted phase, however, needs continue to grow and outpace available resources,” the agency said.
In the first two years of the conflict, the IOM has received $957 million in donations.
“We count on increased support from donors and local partners to meet the challenges that lie ahead in providing a better life for Ukrainians,” said Pope.
The Russian invasion was the biggest of a European country since World War II and triggered the largest refugee crisis the continent has faced since the 1939-1945 conflict.
The United Nations overall says it needs $4.2 billion this year to provide humanitarian aid in Ukraine and to refugees who have fled but fears a likely shortfall as the Gaza war dominates global attention.
Of those who fled and have now returned to their homes, “many have encountered lasting challenges... including insecurity, loss of livelihoods, damaged housing and infrastructure, and strained services,” said Soda Federico, director of the IOM’s humanitarian response and recovery department.
“We must focus on economic recovery,” he said in the agency’s report on the first two years of the war.


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).