Zuma's First Big Test: South Africa's 23% Jobless
At 23.5%, unemployment keeps nation locked in poverty
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 11, 2009 8:01 AM CDT
Job seekers signal their need for work as they sit on a sidewalk in Wetton, Cape Town, South Africa.   (AP Photo/Obed Zilwa)
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(Newser) – South Africa is facing its first post-apartheid recession, and unemployment has hit 23.5%—a punishing figure that has ended the honeymoon of its new president, Jacob Zuma. Many who voted for Zuma have never had a job at all and are desperate for work, Celia Dugger reports for the New York Times. But the president is caught between competing demands from economists and union leaders, and South Africa's masses may be disappointed.

One of Zuma's proposals, backed by economists, would create government-subsidized trial periods for new workers during which they could be fired more easily. But the powerful congress of trade unions opposes the idea and may take to the street to fight for higher wages. In the Johannesburg townships, Zuma supporters are nervous. "Maybe Zuma will change everything the way he’s promised," said one woman who hasn't worked in years. "But we are still crying."