Days before the general election, South Africa's government reported on Monday that unemployment had risen above 25 percent for the first time in almost a year.
Statistics South Africa said the rate had increased by 1.1 points to 25.2 percent in the first quarter of this year.
Mass unemployment has been a central issue ahead of Wednesday's general elections, with all major parties making promises to create jobs a key plank of their manifestos.
President Jacob Zuma, who is expected to win a second five-year term, on Sunday vowed to make the transfer of economic power to non-white South Africans a priority if re-elected.
Although the official unemployment rate hovers around 25 percent, that data does not include millions more who gave up looking for work.
Out of a working-age population of 35 million, only 15 million South Africans are employed.
That has led to widespread social unrest, and fuelled an estimated 30 protests across the country each day over poor government services.
For much of 2013 the official unemployment rate had trended downward, amid mass government hiring.
While the jobs gains were modest, the ruling African National Congress heralded the figures as a sign the economy is on the right track.
Economists said Monday's figures tell a different picture.
"Today's figures provide further evidence that local economic performance is still well below potential," said Nedbank analysts.