South African Cultural Observatory

Executive Direction - June 2021

BY Unathi Lutshaba 30.06.21

Stats SA’s latest quarterly labour force survey (1st quarter 2021) shows that South Africa’s unemployment rate, using the expanded definition of unemployment, increased by 0.6% to 43.2% in the first quarter of 2021. The figure is even higher amongst the youth (15 -34 years), with unemployment rate reported to be 46.3% for the same period.

While there are no comparative stats specifically for the Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs), one can only conclude that Stats SA does not, as yet, have a satellite account for the CCIs indicating that the rate of unemployment is much higher in the sector because it has been disproportionately negatively affected by the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.  I mention the above figures to draw attention to the very dire unemployment situation faced by the cultural workers and especially the youth.

One of our recent reports (The Employment of Youth and Women in Cultural Occupations in South Africa) showed that the youth (younger than 35 years of age) constituted a significant number of people working in cultural occupations. They account for 35% of those employed in the sector. To make matters worse, particularly as Covid-19 has imposed severe restrictions on the CCIs, over 50% of the occupations were in the informal sector. It is a double-whammy for the sector as the informal sector has borne the brunt of Covid-19 restrictions, harshly affecting the livelihoods.

With one of the highest rates of youth unemployment we have witnessed in years, is it not time that stakeholders across the economy pay special attention to the CCIs to prevent the catastrophe that the youth face in the sector?

A few years back, authors of a UNIDO paper titled Creative Industries for Youth: Unleashing Potential and Growth made the following observation in support of youth development and empowerment of youth in the creative sector:

“while no nation inhabited by people can be short of creativity, innovation tends to emerge where the value of creativity is favourably perceived, with a high degree of freedom to set one’s own agenda, where creative talents are better organized through business and supported by institutions, and where competition encouraged and, most importantly, rewards creativity and entrepreneurship. The institutionalization of creativity explains why certain societies are able to productively organize creativity to solve their most pressing problems and achieve progress, while others lag behind in spite of abundant creativity and a rich civilization”.

They correctly observed that “the incidence of unemployment and poverty amongst the youth has risen at an alarming rate”.  Covid-19 has made the situation worse.

As the industry and various stakeholders who wish to see the revival and success of the sector, we cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand with the hope that the crisis of youth unemployment will miraculously disappear. We have to act and act now.    

In this newsletter we have shone the spotlight on two recent reports that broadly talk to initiatives that can contribute towards supporting businesses in the sector that will go a long way towards reducing unemployment, especially youth unemployment. The two reports are The Role of Venture Capital in Promoting the Cultural and Creative Industry (CCI) and The Development of a South African Cultural Export Strategy 

As we think about the contribution we can make to counter youth unemployment in the sector, let’s continue to be vigilant while we observe the current Covid-19 health protocols to mitigate the fatal impact of the Covid-19 third wave.

Until then,

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