* Manufacturing adds, jobs, but losses in mining
* Employment up 1.6 percent q/q in fourth quarter
JOHANNESBURG, March 20 (Reuters) - The number of people employed in South Africa's formal sector inched up only 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 with the manufacturing sector among the few that added jobs, Statistics South Africa said on Tuesday.
Chronic unemployment remains one of the biggest challenges facing Africa's biggest economy, with nearly 24 percent of the labour force reported as jobless in the fourth quarter of last year.
Employment rose by 23,000 people during the last three months of 2011 to 8.381 million and was up 1.6 percent on a year-on-year basis, Statistics South Africa said.
Sectors that saw increased employment during the quarter included manufacturing, which accounts for about 15 percent of gross domestic product, as well as electricity, gas and water supply, wholesale and retail trade, hotels and restaurants.
But jobs were lost in the mining and quarrying industries as well as construction, among others.
Gross earnings paid to employees during the quarter amounted to 364.42 billion rand ($48.4 billion), up 7.1 percent over the third quarter.
In its latest quarterly labour force survey last month, Statistics South Africa said the total number of jobless people stood at 4.244 million in the three months to December from 4.442 million in the third quarter.
Only a fraction of the million jobs lost during a recession in 2009 have been recouped, and economic growth - seen at 2.7 percent this year - remains below the 7 percent expansion the government says is needed to make a meaningful dent in unemployment. ($1 = 7.5343 South African rand) (Reporting by Stella Mapenzauswa, editing by Ed Stoddard/Ruth Pitchford)