The manufacturing sector has performed poorly and employment has fallen sharply. Policy has tended to push manufacturing onto a more capital-intensive trajectory. Paradoxically, South Africa’s actual (or ‘revealed’) comparative advantage has come to be in relatively capital-intensive products. In contrast, labour-intensive sub-sectors have performed poorly. In a context of high structural unemployment, industrial policy should focus more on supporting employment-intensive growth by subsidising labour and training rather than capital investment, electricity and infrastructure for capital-intensive firms.
Labour productivity grew substantially in the first twenty years of democracy, but is this unequivocally good? Much of the increase has been driven by changes at the firm level. Smaller firms’ average labour productivity increased more than that of larger firms. This seems to reflect changes in the composition of firms and jobs – smaller firms and low-productivity jobs appear to be vanishing. This is worrying because these are the type of jobs we need to reduce unemployment.
The informal sector is frequently viewed as comprising only street traders. However, micro-manufacturing of various types constitutes a small but significant component. A Cape Town case study of informal metalwork manufacturers, retailers, suppliers and customers shows that township metalworker enterprises and supply chains bring about important opportunities for promoting value adding, skills development and employment. Policy interventions that would help them grow include the provision of more suitable manufacturing and trading spaces as well as services such as electricity.
While the share of capital increased, labour’s share of total income earned in South Africa fell significantly during the first two decades after 1994. These trends could contribute to a deterioration of income inequality, given that the ownership of capital – and thus the income from capital – is concentrated in fewer individuals than is the case with salaries and wages. This article explores labour’s falling share, with particular reference to the manufacturing and mining sectors.
There is a widespread view that countries no longer need to industrialise in order to develop. However, in South Africa manufacturing remains the core driver of GDP growth and direct employment while other sectors – particularly many services sectors – are likely to increase employment on the basis of growing demand flowing from a growing GDP. A nuanced understanding of the direct and indirect linkages through which diversified manufacturing growth can boost economy-wide employment is essential.