Young people continue to be at the periphery of pertinent political discourse and policy engagements. The current campaigns of the ruling party’s presidential candidates continue to affirm how little leaders care, and how out of touch they are with the plight and struggles that many young people face in this country.
Over the past couple of weeks, Statistics South Africa has released shocking reports on the prevalence of poverty and the stubbornly high unemployment figures, particularly within the youth category. The poverty report indicates that more than 30.4-million South Africans live in poverty, but more important, that children under the age of 17 are the hardest hit.
We learned that poverty and unemployment have a strong relationship, particularly in the South African context. When we study data and trends from 2014/2015, the numbers indicate that the poorest 40% of the population only accounted for about 12.4% of total national income, but account for 71.9% of the unemployment figures.
The latest quarterly report on Labour Force Survey indicates that more than three million people between the ages of 15 and 24 are not employed nor in any form of training or any institutions of higher learning. In addition to this number, the reality is that many of the unemployed young people suffer from chronic unemployment, 60.3% of them to be exact, meaning they have never worked before.
However, even with these facts in mind, we have heard no single presidential candidate from the ruling party engage substantively on the vexing challenges facing youth and how they will actually work with us to resolve these issues. All we hear is the same baseless rhetoric and slogans that have no substance.
It is, at least for me, quite disappointing to follow the campaigns closely and hear nothing from a businessperson about creating a conducive space for young entrepreneurs to effectively be supported in the SMME space. When the reality is that between 2008 and 2017, the numbers show that youth self-employers or small-scale entrepreneurs have dropped from 390,000 to 340,000.
Moreover, it is deeply worrying that a former leader of the continental body fails to see how not effectively addressing the diverse challenges of a poor education system and chronic unemployment can lead to a rise in social unrest and violence as is evident across Africa.
Many young people live on the outskirts of economic hubs and subsequently economic opportunities as well. To have a candidate who is well versed with the spatial inequalities, and hopefully the knowledge that these spatial inequalities affect access due to high transport costs to not engage in issues of transport subsidies for young job seekers (something the party has engaged about previously) is rather disappointing to say the least.
We need leaders who are able to speak to the challenges of more than half of the country’s population. The fees commission submitted their report about the feasibility of free education last week to the president, and though we still await his pronouncement, a presidential candidate’s stance on the matter of free education would be welcomed. Subsequently, other matters that will help ensure young people have access to learning, training and opportunities such as digital access, impact sourcing, dedicated multi-disciplinary research for long-term policy, among other issues, should be part and parcel of the messaging as it relates to the various youth challenges and what the candidate will do.
The reality is that you cannot truly see yourself as a progressive leader who is in touch with the lived reality of the people and not realise that young people are an integral stakeholder in the success or failure of this nation. To appeal to the broader population as their potential leader, you must be able to speak to their challenges, to engage their struggles and to commit to work in partnership in solving these entrenched issues. The nation is young and full of potential and needs a leader who can commit to creating an enabling environment for youth to get training, quality education and work in order build and move South Africa forward. DM