More than 35,000 applicants turned up at a testing center in the town of Pietermaritzburg on Friday for the 90 vacant jobs.
“The tragedy struck when groups of job applicants were put on a four-kilometer run in over 30 degrees heat,” the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) reported on Saturday.
Six applicants died after collapsing from dehydration and heat exhaustion, while another person reportedly committed suicide in frustration after the test, the SABC said.
About 200 other people were treated at various hospitals around the city.
“We regret any injuries or loss of lives as a result of the fitness test,” Provincial Transport, Community Safety and Liaison MEC Willies Mchunu said commenting on the tragedy.
Many South Africans take desperate steps to get a job as the official unemployment rate in Africa’s largest economy rose to 25.5% in the third quarter of 2012.
Some unofficial reports claim the rate could be as high as 50% because the official data counts only the people who are actively looking for a job.