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  • Why waste money on Quarterly Labour Force Surveys? Waste it on youth development instead!
  • Charles Meth1 (bio)

If the things we face are greater and more important than the things we refuse to face, then at least we have begun the re-evaluation of our world. At least we have begun to learn to see and live again.

But if we refuse to face any of our awkward and deepest truths, then sooner or later, we are going to have to become deaf and blind. And then, eventually, we are going to have to silence our dreams, and the dreams of others. In other words, we die. We die in life.

(Ben Okri 1997)


The memorable words above are those at the head of the budget speech delivered by the Minister of Finance in February 2009. The concern of the present paper is with two 'awkward and deepest truths' the ANC, in government and in conference, chooses not to face. The first is unfortunate – it involves the waste of a probable few hundred million Rands. This is sad but tolerable. The second is less tolerable – involving as it does an extravagant detour in institution-building to tackle youth development issues that could set that cause back by many years.

It is often easy to detect when expenditure on this or that is a waste – it is also not difficult to discover objects or subjects which/who would benefit if expenditure were switched in their direction. This paper attempts to do both. Reiterating a set of criticisms offered in advance of the publication of the first of the new Quarterly Labour Force Surveys in August last year in a paper whose final draft was delivered in April 2008 (Meth 2008), the present [End Page 76] paper concludes that the value of the information contained in the QLFSs for policy-makers and business decision-makers, used either alone or as part of an information bundle, is zero.

The second part of the paper takes one of the many areas where statistics are vital for policy formation and casts around for a niche within it into which to throw a pile of money in order that some good may be done. This turns out to be less easy than was anticipated when the chosen area, youth development, suggested itself as a worthy recipient of money that was being misspent elsewhere. The difficulty arises because an industry has grown up around youth development, one whose momentum has resulted in the creation of what would be a comically impractical institution were the consequences of its creation for youth development not so unfortunate. I refer here to the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), ushered into being by legislation at the end of 2008. The paper spells out in stark numbers the rough dimensions of the problem of enforced idleness among youth that goes beyond the ghastly unemployment figures so frequently cited. It is suggested that government, for all its apparent awareness of the enormity of the problems faced by the country, is paralysed into a politics of gestures by the struggles for the soul of the ANC.

Information overload: doubling the numbers of LFSs

After a review some time ago of the old bi-annual Labour Force Surveys (LFSs), Statistics South Africa decided that the survey would in future be conducted on a quarterly basis. One stated aim was to facilitate policy responses by providing more up-to-date, timely information. The hope had also been expressed in government that the slimmed-down instrument would find the elusive workers the old LFSs allegedly missed. The new Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) was launched with a flourish in August 2008. Hundreds of millions of Rands are being, or will be spent, to produce an instrument that tells us little more than did the bi-annual survey. Indeed, when the QLFS was first mooted, several economists were of the opinion that an annual LFS, let alone bi-annual LFS, would suffice. Statistics South Africa claims that conducting the survey four times a year has enabled them to stabilise employment among survey staff and hence to improve quality. I argued that the same result could be achieved...


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pp. 76-102
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