South Africa's jobless rate rose in the fourth quarter of last year, official data showed on Tuesday, in another worrying sign for the government ahead of a general election.

The unemployment rate reached 32.1 percent from October to December 2023, up 0.2 of a percentage point on the previous quarter, the national statistics agency, StatsSA, said.

"The number of employed persons decreased by 22,000 to 16.7 million," it said.

High unemployment is a key political issue ahead of national and provincial elections, which should take place between May and August.

Young people in particular lament the lack of prospects in what is Africa's most industrialised economy.

Youth unemployment was 44.3 percent in the fourth quarter, up 0.9 percentage points on the previous three months.

Agriculture, social services, construction, trade and manufacturing were the industries that contributed the most to the increase in the overall jobless rate, which followed two consecutive quarters where unemployment had edged down, according to StatsSA.

In power since the advent of democracy in 1994, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has been experiencing a sharp decline in support, beset by graft and mismanagement allegations amid a slumbering economy.

The high unemployment rate has fuelled protests as well as anti-foreigner sentiment.