Unemployed at 25% in South Africa


At a Daimler AG plant that overlooks the East London harbor in South Africa,
robots help produce one of the world’s best-selling luxury cars. A line of
one-armed, orange, computerized machines works under minimal human supervision,
attaching panels to chassis for Mercedes-Benz C- Class sedans.

Stuttgart, Germany-based Daimler is one of
a bevy of global auto giants, including BMW, Ford Motor Company and Toyota Motor Corp., who have pumped about 32 billion rand ($4.65 billion)
into South Africa during the past decade to create the nation’s biggest
manufacturing industry, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its June issue.

“This is a growing market for us,” says
Bernd Schwendtke, 42, a German national and chief financial officer at
Mercedes- Benz’s South African unit. “The government offers a range of support.
We have a flexible and committed labor force.”

The auto industry is one of several bright
spots in Africa’s largest economy. Car companies produced 472,049 vehicles last
year in South Africa,
26 percent more than in 2009, on their way to a government goal of 1 million by
2020. The stock market and the rand in South Africa, the world’s largest
producer of platinum, have also rallied during the global commodities boom.

Yet the nation’s rise as a world-class
automaker, with automated assembly lines, has barely made a dent in reducing
the joblessness that still plagues the economy almost two decades after the end
of apartheid. An already high unemployment rate of 21.9 percent in the final
quarter of 2008 spiked to 25.3 percent in the third period of last year as the
global credit crackup and a surging rand threw about 1 million more South Africa out of