This paper examines an issue of overwhelming importance in South Africa—unemployment and its rise. It explains the factors behind the sharp rise in unemployment in the post-apartheid period, investigates the role of labour legislation and the system of labour market governance, evaluates the impact of the government’s active labour market policies, identifies the knowledge gaps about the functioning of the labour market and draws some policy prescriptions. It analyses unemployment using household surveys spanning 1995–2003 and explains the rise in unemployment by the slow growth of the economy, and thus slow growth in the demand for labour relative to the rapidly growing supply, together with labour market inflexibility. The paper argues that if unemployment is to be tackled, it is crucial to pursue a set of policies that promote South Africa’s rate of economic growth to promote job-creation, and also that labour market regulations require reconsideration, giving greater weight to the concerns of employers and investors, and to the interests of the unemployed and informally employed poor who are beyond the reach of the labour institutions but can be hurt by them nevertheless. It highlights that lack of appropriate data hinders analysis of important aspects such as entry into, exit from and duration of unemployment. Finally, the paper appeals for investigation of howactive labour market policies to address unemployment—such as public works programmes, skills training programmes etc., formulated\nlargely in the absence of local evidence—have performed.