Country’s unemployment crisis knows no bounds, doctors not spared

Dr Thakgalo Thibela was celebrated three years ago as the country’s youngest doctor at the age of 21. Picture: Supplied

Dr Thakgalo Thibela was celebrated three years ago as the country’s youngest doctor at the age of 21. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 21, 2024


Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana has revealed that in spite of the many challenges, the government is serious and committed to implementing the National Health Insurance (NHI) plan policy currently awaiting approval from President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa is yet to sign the policy into law following its recent adoption by the National Assembly.

Many civil society organisations and trade unions within the sector have been urging the president to sign the NHI into law and bring a new health framework into the sector.

During his Budget speech, the minister resolved to make the NHI a reality after he tabled his Budget allocation for the country’s ailing health sector plagued by the unemployment of young doctors, nurses and other health professionals.

Ahead of his speech, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) and other unions in the sector called for a speedy implementation of the NHI to ensure universal access to health for the majority of South Africans who are struggling to access health services without access to medical aid schemes.

Denosa also called for a speedy resolution to the skills challenges in the sector following reports that there were more than 2 000 unemployed young doctors battling to find jobs, with government saying the high unemployment rate was due to budgetary constraints.

Godongwana said he had earmarked R848 billion over the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) to oversee infrastructure as well as other health-related commitments.

“These allocations include R11.6bn to address the 2023 wage agreement, R27.3bn for infrastructure, and R1.4bn for the NHI grant over the same period.

“The allocation for the NHI is a demonstration of the government’s commitment to this policy. There remain a range of system-strengthening activities that are key enablers of an improved public health care system that must be undertaken,” the minister said.

The country is battling to resolve the unemployment crisis, especially among the youth following the grim picture painted by Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) in its latest figures this week.

StatsSA reported that the unemployment rate increased slightly by 0.2 of a percentage point to 32.1% in the fourth quarter of 2023, up from a one-year low of 31.9% in the third quarter of 2023.

The latest figures comes amid reports that the government doesn’t have enough funds to employ young doctors who have completed their community service.

Media reports have put the figure of unemployed young doctors at more than 2 000. They include Dr Thakgalo Thibela, 24, who was celebrated three years ago as the country’s youngest doctor at 21.

However, she too has become another statistic after she stated on social media that she is prepared to work anywhere, just so that she can serve the country in the best way she knows how.

“I happen to find myself as part of the over 800 unemployed doctors in South Africa currently,” Thibela said recently.

“I am willing and ready to serve anywhere in the country but that opportunity is not being afforded to me. I became a doctor because I wanted to help people, and not being able to do just that has been mentally taxing. Please help,” she said.

Reacting to the minister’s proposed budget, Theuns du Buisson, economic researcher at the Solidarity Research Institute (SRI), believes that hard-working South Africans will have to foot the bill once again on behalf of the state.

Du Buisson said medical aid premiums had increased by much more than inflation – something that will short-change salary earners further.

“What pleases us, though, is that the minister treats the National Health Insurance with the contempt it deserves. As in the past, he has only budgeted about a billion rand for it.

“Nevertheless, that billion could be much better used to supplement the already struggling healthcare budget,” said Du Buisson.