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Economic crisis creeps into the campaign

Video by Graham WALSH , Caroline DUMAY

Text by Graham WALSH , Caroline DUMAY

Latest update : 2009-04-23

As in many other developing countries, it's not South Africa’s financial sector but its manufacturing sector that is most at risk. With hundreds of thousands threatening to joing the jobless rolls, the crisis is creeping up among voters' concerns.

The sights and sounds of unemployment in Cape Town. A drop in demand has forced this textile factory to close down. And there are tough times ahead for thousands of workers.

Clifton Rutgers has been working at the factory for 21 years. He and his colleague have come to hear details of their retrenchment. Clifton says job cuts in the industry are affecting everyone, both young and old: “If you’re a youngster today you will be scared because of the economy outside there. I mean, if you look at it, how many factories are closing, then I would say, how are these youngsters going to get new jobs?”

The global economic crisis has hit South Africa’s clothing and textile sector hard, along with the automotive and mining industries. About 300 thousand workers stand to lose their jobs this year. As in many other developing countries, it's not South Africa’s financial sector but its manufacturing sector that is most at risk. Etienne Vlok, of the South African Clothing & Textile Workers Union, voices her concern: “We’ve seen a drop in demand because of the impact on the South African economy, through people losing their jobs."

And those may be people in the auto sector and in the mining sector and, suddenly, demand decreasing.” South Africa’s economy has seen negative growth for the first time in 15 years. Industrial confidence is at its lowest in a decade. Partly because of uncertainty about what kind of change a Jacob Zuma administration will bring.

Jacob Zuma, the leader of the African National Congress and the man likely to be its next president, says he is well aware of the problem: "South Africa remains an unequal society. We'll continue to implement certain policies that will help us to close this gap. One of these is broad-based economic empowerment of black people. The policy is not meant to harm any group. It's main objective is that of redress.”

But industry experts say they’ll wait and see whether Jacob Zuma can find a way to put a smile on the faces of both business and labour. Willie Spies of the Solidarity trade union is not entirely convinced: “Our members are also very sceptical about the new Zuma presidency. And we will now see how his government will look.”

 

Zuma has been turning on the charm on the election campaign trail. But many are still suspicious of his populist, leftist leanings; and worried he’ll steer the economy away from its current business-friendly policies.

Date created : 2009-04-22

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