South African Jobless Rate Rises, Pressuring ANC Before Vote

(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s first quarter unemployment rate rose to the highest level in a year, potentially hurting the ruling African National Congress’s efforts to convince voters of its ability to create jobs ahead of elections on May 29.

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The official jobless rate climbed to 32.9% in the three months through March from 32.1% in the previous quarter, Statistics South Africa said Tuesday in a report released in the capital, Pretoria. The median estimate of three economists surveyed by Bloomberg was 32.3%.

The rand weakened 0.3% to 18.42 per dollar as of 2:00 p.m. in Johannesburg.

The main driver of the increase was more entrants into the labor force, Statistician General Risenga Maluleke said.

While the number of employed people increased by 22,000 in the quarter, boosted by job gains in the trade and manufacturing sectors, those looking for work swelled by 352,000 as school leavers, graduates and previously discouraged work-seekers started hunting for jobs. That contributed to the expanded definition of the unemployment rate, which includes people who were available for work but not looking for a job, increasing only marginally to 41.9%, compared with 41.1% in the December quarter.

Most jobs were shed in the construction and community and social services sectors. The data also showed that in the past decade the unemployment rate has been consistently higher among Black South Africans than other population groups, who make up the bulk of the electorate.

The data is likely to be used by opposition parties to attack the ANC’s handling of the economy ahead of May 29 elections. Opinion polls show support for the ANC dipping below 50% for the first time since 1994 due to rampant unemployment and poverty.

For more on South Africa’s election, click on ELEC ZA

--With assistance from Simbarashe Gumbo.

(Updates with more details throughout)

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