Opinionista Kenneth Diole 12 June 2017

Beyond the rhetoric: Why do we lack urgency when dealing with youth related challenges?

This coming Youth Day, after the rhetoric and cosmetics of the day have passed, we, as a nation, must ask why we lack urgency in dealing with the various youth challenges. We must ask ourselves why have we relegated our own civic duties to change the youth situation primarily to government and remain reactionary.

Once again, this coming Friday we will celebrate Youth Day, we will take time to reflect, honour and commemorate the legacy of the gallant and brave youth of 1976. We will take time to analysis the changing narrative of youth in this country, through the lenses of the various hashtag movements that have swept the country in the past two years. We will selectively applaud their courage, resilience and determination for fighting against injustices, in whichever way they have and continue to manifest. However, in the same breath as we celebrate the progress made, we must take a moment to introspect, on how the legacy of youth will be shaped in the decades to come.

As a country we have reached a point of dangerous complacency in relation to various youth challenges, where we do a great deal of lip-service to challenges rather than practical measures to mitigate and work towards solving the issues.

As things currently stand, Statistics South Africa reports that young people are the worst affected by the 14-year high unemployment rate of 27.7 %, with over 50.9% of that being youth. In addition to this troublesome picture, the Department of Higher Education and Training’s report on NEET, people who are not employed nor in any form of educational institutions or training, show that one in three young persons under the age of 25 find themselves in this situation.

This tumultuous situation is further exacerbated by the various structural and systemic challenges that we as a country have not dealt with. In the first instance, the spatial inequalities that have been created and have sustained the stark dichotomy of Alexandra township and Sandton city, and ensured that poor people remain at the peripheries of economic hubs. National Treasury released a report a while ago, that showed the majority of the working class as an example, spent 40 minutes or more on the road to work, live in 40 metre square houses, and spend more than 40% of their disposable income on transport. This indicates that a majority of working people do not have enough time or capacity to even aid the children’s development in a substantive manner, meaning many young people will inherit various challenges before they can change their circumstances.

In addition, the poor standard of our basic education system continues to perpetuate the lack of substantive economic activity by those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and could not find financial support for either further education and training or entrepreneurial activity. A young person with a matric certificate is said to need at least two years of further training to be commercially competitive. And in the case of entrepreneurship, the trend of a majority who come from lack, seems to be an increase in necessity entrepreneurship. Meaning they start businesses such as a car washes, hair salons etc in order to survive, as scaling up is often prohibited by lack of education and funding.

Moreover, as recent times have indicated, the safety and security of young people has long been negated. We have forgotten to address the fact that our democracy inherited a systemic culture of violence. The past couple of months have demonstrated this through the violence of the police towards students in the #feesmustfall campaign, public service protests, xenophobic attacks and the gruesome killing of young women. The normalisation of violence has and continues to play out in our every day lives without adequate response to it.

And thus, this coming Youth Day, after the rhetoric and cosmetics of the day have passed, we, as a nation, must ask why we lack urgency in dealing with the various youth challenges? We must ask ourselves why we have relegated our own civic duties to change the youth situation primarily to government and remain reactionary? It is paramount that we actively decide and take action to change the narrative of 200 daily HIV infections to young women, and of the young many men with tremendous potential who wake up at 3.30am to go and sell newspapers near to the CBD and who are not at school. We must go beyond the rhetoric, to fundamentally alter and change the current youth picture. DM


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