Opinionista Kenneth Diole 15 June 2018

Have we done justice to the legacy of the class of 1976?

Figures indicate that young people are faced with multiple challenges that are both structural and systemic in their nature. Some of these challenges range from access to quality basic and higher education, skills development programmes, meaningful job opportunities and sufficient support within the entrepreneurial space for those who pursue that path.

As we commemorate the 42ndanniversary of the 16 June Soweto uprising, as we remember the gallant and brave class of 1976 for their pioneering spirit against an oppressive system and in particular the unjust education system of the time. We must also take the opportunity to reflect deeply about the incumbent state of youth in South Africa, specifically the chronic unemployment of millions of young people.

The latest numbers as per Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) indicate a bleak picture. Unemployment for the first quarter of 2018 stands at 26.7% (5.98-million people) with the narrow definition, and 36.7% (approximately 8.8-million people) with the broad definition that includes people who have given up looking for employment.

However, the challenge is greater within the youth demographic of 15-25 years. Stats SA estimated that one in three young people are not economically active or receiving the requisite skills to partake meaningfully in the economy. That is tantamount to 10.3-million young people between the ages of 15 and 25 years who find themselves not employed or in any educational and training institution.

Moreover, what the statistics reveal is that young women in particular receive the harshest end of the unemployment crisis, with them making up the greater number of the unemployment figure. The challenge is becoming of greater concern as the figures equally show that a tertiary qualification no longer guarantees one employment thereafter. The graduate unemployment numbers of young people between the ages of 15-24 is at 33.5% and for those between 25 and 34 years is at 10.2%, showing a steep increase of unemployment of people with post-matric qualifications in the past 10 years.

These figures indicate that young people are faced with multiple challenges that are both structural and systemic in their nature. Some of these challenges range from access to quality basic and higher education, skills development programmes, meaningful job opportunities and sufficient support within the entrepreneurial space for those who pursue that path.

When looking at our basic education system as an example, reports by various employers of young people straight out of the system indicate that a majority of the learners who pass matric and do not pursue tertiary qualification are not sufficiently skilled to carry out some basic tasks at times. They indicate that many of the learners lack basic skills such as; comprehension, most are barely numerate, lack in personal mastery and effective communication skills and still require at least two years of further learning and training to be commercially competitive.

Notwithstanding, the many initiatives that are aimed at mitigating the youth question, be it EPWP, the recently launched Youth Employment Services (YES) and many other institutions that aim to curb the bulging unemployment figure. It is evident that these measures are not sufficient and require broader participation of various stakeholders to solve. There is an economic and social imperative to act with haste from a policy, advocacy and business perspective to deal meaningfully with the youth question.

Thus, it is imperative that when young people are faced with such dire prospects and harsh lived realities, we ought to not only reflect about the significance of the day in its historical context. However, to engage with urgency about the incumbent situation, and ensure that as we commemorate this significant day in our history, we ask whether we have done justice to the legacy of the class of 1976. By taking the requisite steps to significantly change the trajectory of youth or whether it is yet another public holiday that its history will be diminished as a day off from work and an opportunity for some to grandstand by claiming to represent youth. DM

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