JUNE 16

Ramaphosa calls on the youth to lead Covid-19 recovery

By Greg Nicolson 16 June 2020

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: GCIS)

President Cyril Ramaphosa marked Youth Day by calling on young people to lead the country’s economic recovery and challenge inequality. Opposition parties lamented the challenges young people continue to face 44 years after the Soweto Uprising.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought South Africa’s inequalities to the fore and the country must embrace innovative solutions offered by the youth to tackle the health crisis and rebuild the economy, said President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday in a virtual Youth Day address.

“This pandemic provides us with an opportunity to inject new perspectives into how we can turn our economy around, but also how we can reimagine our very society,” said the president.

“Young people must rise to the challenge of leading our recovery after the coronavirus.”

The Covid-19 pandemic is expected to take a heavy toll on the country’s youth, which already accounted for 63% of South Africa’s unemployed.

Their studies have been interrupted at both the basic and higher education levels and the National School Nutrition Programme was suspended while schools were closed, only resuming recently for learners in grades 7 and 12, as the number of people experiencing hunger is predicted to be increasing.

“The voices of young people in movements such as Fees Must Fall and protests against gender-based-violence have been catalysts for change,” said the president.

“The remarkable potential in our young people across all sectors and spaces is undeniable and young people from time immemorial have always been driven by changing the world, by changing the way things are done, by changing the way we live, by changing unjust systems, by bringing about justice by bringing about a new world.”

“Though the challenges that we face are immense, our young people have proven time and time again that their immense optimism and desire to make a change is very strong,” said Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa was speaking 44 years after students in Soweto and then across the country protested against using Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools. They fought against the system of Bantu education and apartheid oppression.

“Your social status should no longer be a barrier for being educated and becoming skilled because we recognise that a country that invests in its youth is clearly on the road to prosperity,” he said.

The president said the government is helping uplift young people through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, Presidential Youth Employment Initiative, National Youth Service, Expanded Public Works Programme and funding offered by the Small Enterprise Finance Agency.

“Though the challenges that we face are immense, our young people have proven time and time again that their immense optimism and desire to make a change is very strong,” said Ramaphosa.

Opposition parties also highlighted how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the youth and emphasised the need to prioritise their interests, but they criticised the government for failing young people both during the current State of Disaster and throughout the country’s democracy.

“When we look at what we’ve been seeing, young people are the first people to actually lose their jobs because many of them hold entry-level jobs in the private sector,” DA Youth leader Luyolo Mphithi said in an online interview with DA interim leader John Steenhuisen.

“We know that in many rural provinces many kids are still learning under trees, many kids are still falling into pit toilets, many kids still don’t have the requisite amount of knowledge and networks to be able to convert the skills they learn at schools to be able to find jobs or to be able to access education at a tertiary level,” Mphithi said.

In an online address, EFF leader Julius Malema said the government had failed young people during and before the pandemic.

Malema warned Ramaphosa “that the mass deaths we are to witness over the coming weeks are due to his lack of decisiveness at a time when the country needed leadership”.

The EFF has opposed the resumption of alcohol sales and the reopening of schools and Malema said the government had failed to adequately prepare the health system. While honouring past youth leaders, he said the government had failed students.

“The majority of students are still on the outskirts of higher education. The curriculum is still not decolonised and focused on developing the continent,” said Malema.

“Students still sleep in toilets due to lack of student accommodation and during this Covid-19 pandemic we are seeing how historically white institutions of higher learning are distributing digital and financial resources to their students while the institutions of [the] poor and black majority struggle to adapt to the new conditions.”

Malema, who throughout his speech attacked Ramaphosa for his links to white business leaders, urged young people to take action.

“Stop being a coward, you are young. Take responsibility. Let me tell you, the youth of South Africa, you’ve got a licence and permission to make mistakes because you are still young.”

In a brief statement, Freedom Front Plus Youth leader Tammy Breedt said there was nothing to celebrate on Youth Day as so many young people were unemployed. Afrikaans youth were taught to be ashamed of their history, he added. DM

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