South Africa jobs bloodbath – unemployment rate hits new record


Statistics South Africa has published the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QFLS) for Q3 2021, showing how continued lockdown restrictions, load shedding and the July riots impacted jobs in the country.

The results show that the number of employed persons decreased by 660,000 in the third quarter of 2021 to 14.3 million. By comparison, the number of unemployed persons decreased by 183,000 to 7.6 million from second quarter of 2021.

The number of discouraged work-seekers increased by 545,000 (16.4%) and the number of people who were not economically active for reasons other than discouragement increased by 443,000 (3.3%) between the two quarters – resulting in a net increase of 988,000 in the not economically active population.

These changes resulted in the official unemployment rate increasing by 0.5 of a percentage point from 34.4% in the second quarter of 2021 to 34.9% in the third quarter of 2021 – the highest since the start of the QLFS in 2008.

The unemployment rate according to the expanded definition of unemployment increased by 2.2 percentage points to 46.6% over the same period. This is the highest unemployment rate since the start of the QLFS in 2008.

The unemployment rate is up 10% over the past decade, having reached 25% in 2011.

Hardest hit sectors 

The data shows that between Q2 and Q3 2021, the number of employed persons decreased in all industries with the exception of finance where employment increased by 138,000.

The largest decrease in employment was recorded in the trade sector (-309,000), followed by community and social services (-210,000), construction and private households (-65,000 each).

Provincial-level data shows similar declines, with the Northern Cape the only province to record an increase in employment over the period (+19,000).

The largest employment decreases were recorded in:

  • Gauteng – down by 200,000 jobs;
  • North West – down by 128,000 jobs;
  • KwaZulu-Natal – down by 123,000 jobs;
  • Limpopo  – down by 112,000 jobs.


In a quest to protect citizens from Covid-19, the government announced a national lockdown that brought about a shutdown of the economy, which in turn resulted in a shock in the labour market and a big change in the way people went about doing their work.

As part of its Q3 QLFS, Stats SA included an additional focus on how South Africans were working during the lockdown.

The data shows that of the 14.3 million persons who were employed in Q3 2021, about four out of every five persons (85.2%) were expected to work during the national lockdown by the companies/organisations they work for.

The majority of these people commuted to work during the period, while 7.8% of the employees indicated that they worked from home.

The share of those who worked from home was higher among those in professional (26.5%) and managerial (19%) occupations, indicating access to tools of trade to facilitate work from home for
these workers. Domestic workers and machine operators were the least likely to work from home at 0.7% and 1.2%, respectively.

Read: Here’s how many university students plan to leave South Africa for work

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