South Africa’s unemployment rate rose to a record 32.5 per cent between October and December 2020, the government statistics agency said on Tuesday, the highest since the start of records in 2008.

The number of unemployed rose by 701,000 to 7.2 million compared to the third quarter of 2020, Stats SA said in a statement. “The movement... resulted in a significant increase of 1.7 percentage points in the official unemployment rate to 32.5 per cent,” it added.

South Africa, the continent’s most industrialised economy, was already in recession when coronavirus hit last March.  Months of rolling restrictions to stem the virus have stifled economic activity and bled tens of thousands of jobs.

Months of rolling restrictions to stem the virus have stifled economic activity and bled tens of thousands of jobs

The agency said that a benchmark of underlying joblessness, which is not included in the official unemployment rate, showed a slight fall.

An additional 235,000 people entered the category of so-called “discouraged work-seekers”, an 8.7 per cent increase, between the third and fourth quarters of 2020. But the number of people jobless “for reasons other than discouragement” fell by 1.1 million, a 7.4-per cent drop. 

As a result, the “expanded” unemployment rate – a category that includes people too discouraged to actively seek work – fell by half a percentage point between the two quarters, stood at 42.6 per cent at the end of 2020.

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