Why is unemployment so high in South Africa?

Ryan Cooper writes to me:

Hey Tyler, possible blog post topic: I’m wondering how you would explain the situation in South Africa (or other similar countries) with stupendous persistent unemployment–SA has been above 20% since 2000:  http://www.tradingeconomics.com/south-africa/unemployment-rate

A few factors I imagine are important:

1) The education system is totally broken in a lot of places. As in, 12th graders can neither read nor write in any language nor figure out 3×3 in their heads.
2) Unions are crazy strong, and have been driving up wages like gangbusters, particularly in the public sector.
3) Minimum wage laws are stringent and have actually led to worker protests: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/27/world/africa/27safrica.html?pagewanted=all
4) Inflation hasn’t been TOO bad recently (~6%), but has seen spikes to almost 14 percent not long ago: http://www.tradingeconomics.com/south-africa/inflation-cpi
5) There’s a highly developed sector. On average, whites are far richer than blacks.

6) Crime and inequality are incredibly bad.
7) The ANC has won every election in a landslide and is strongly allied with the unions.

So how does it tie together? Lots of poorly-educated ZMP layabouts? Wages too high to start sweatshop-style development? Razor wire + electric fence + security guard costs deterring investment? The results of generations of systematic oppression and denial of education? All of the above, plus some?

Just trying to iron out a coherent story. I was a Peace Corps volunteer for two years there and I’m slowly building up my economics knowledge; this question has always fascinated me.

Here is one additional account.  Here is an IMF analysis.  Here are some World Bank powerpoints.  I told him I would try to answer the question, but after a bit of research I don’t find myself getting much further than his suggestions.


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