Who Holds Jobs In South Africa?

Who holds jobs in South Africa

South Africa’s economy is a tapestry woven with various sectors, each contributing its unique thread to the country’s economic fabric. From services to manufacturing, trade to agriculture, the employment landscape reflects a diverse array of opportunities. However, beneath this diversity lies a complex web of challenges, including racial disparities, gender inequalities, and the daunting specter of youth unemployment. Understanding the nuances of employment by sector, occupation, race, gender, age, education level, location, and the prevalence of informal employment is crucial for grasping the intricacies of South Africa’s labor market.

Employment by Sector

South Africa’s economy is diverse, with a wide range of industries contributing to its GDP. The largest employment sectors are:

  • Services: 65.3% of employed persons (2020)
  • Manufacturing: 13.2%
  • Trade: 12.1%
  • Construction: 6.3%
  • Agriculture: 5.2%
  • Mining: 4.5%
  • Electricity, gas, and water: 3.4%

Employment by Occupation

Within each sector, there is a wide range of occupations. The most common occupations in South Africa are:

  • Elementary occupations: 23.6% of employed persons (2020)
  • Service and sales workers: 20.1%
  • Skilled agricultural and fishery workers: 15.3%
  • Craft and related trades workers: 14.2%
  • Professionals: 13.5%
  • Technicians and associate professionals: 7.6%
  • Managers: 5.7%

Employment by Race

Racial disparities in employment persist in South Africa. According to the 2021 Quarterly Labour Force Survey, the unemployment rate for Black Africans is 34.9%, compared to 20.5% for Coloureds, 11.8% for Indians/Asians, and 7.3% for Whites.

The racial gap in employment is particularly pronounced in certain sectors. For example, in the finance sector, 66.5% of employees are White, while only 16.2% are Black African.

Employment by Gender

Gender disparities in employment also exist in South Africa. Women are more likely to be unemployed than men (28.2% vs. 23.3% in 2021). They are also more likely to be employed in low-paying jobs and to face discrimination in the workplace.

Employment by Age

The youth unemployment rate in South Africa is alarmingly high. In 2021, 46.3% of young people aged 15-24 were unemployed. This is a major challenge for the country, as it limits the economic potential of its future workforce.

Employment by Education Level

Education plays a significant role in determining employment opportunities in South Africa. Individuals with higher levels of education are more likely to be employed and to earn higher wages.

In 2021, the unemployment rate for individuals with no schooling was 38.5%, compared to 25.4% for those with some secondary education, 18.7% for those with completed secondary education, and 7.9% for those with a tertiary qualification.

Employment by Location

Employment opportunities vary significantly across South Africa. The largest metropolitan areas, such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, have the highest concentration of jobs. However, there are also significant disparities within these cities, with some areas experiencing much higher unemployment rates than others.

Informal Employment

Informal employment is a significant part of the South African economy. In 2020, an estimated 2.2 million people were employed in the informal sector, accounting for 15.4% of total employment.

Informal employment is often characterized by low wages, poor working conditions, and a lack of social protection. It is particularly prevalent in the retail, construction, and agriculture sectors.

The future of employment in South Africa is uncertain. The country faces a number of challenges, including high unemployment, low economic growth, and rising inequality. However, there are also some positive trends, such as the growing importance of the services sector and the increasing number of women and young people entering the workforce.

The government is implementing a number of policies to address the challenges facing the labor market. These policies include:

  • Investing in education and skills development
  • Promoting job creation in high-growth sectors
  • Reducing inequality and discrimination
  • Expanding social protection programs

The success of these policies will be critical to improving employment opportunities for all South Africans.


In conclusion, the employment landscape in South Africa is multifaceted, reflecting both the country’s rich diversity and its persistent challenges. While certain sectors thrive and offer opportunities for growth and advancement, others grapple with deep-seated inequalities and structural barriers. As the nation navigates its path forward, addressing these challenges will require concerted efforts from both the public and private sectors. By investing in education, promoting inclusive growth, and expanding social protection programs, South Africa can strive towards a future where employment opportunities are accessible to all, ensuring a more equitable and prosperous society for generations to come.

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