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How voluntary National Service can open the door for unemployed matriculants


Geordin Hill-Lewis is the Mayor of Cape Town.

Last week hundreds of thousands of young South Africans across the country got their matric results, a relieving end to 12 years of hard work. Watching the jubilant scenes, I could not help wondering about the prospects of so many of these matriculants in an economy that is not creating work fast enough to absorb them all. A large portion of this group will be facing the very real prospect of unemployment in the years ahead.

South Africa is faced with an unprecedented unemployment crisis, with nearly 10 million people out of a job. The unemployment rate among individuals who are younger than 25, using the expanded definition, is 67.4%. Yes, you read that right. Nearly 7 out of 10.

The odds are stacked against the youth, newly employed and those with no prospects of tertiary education. The ANC government has put in place some of the world’s most restrictive labour policies that favour the few that are already employed. This effectively pushes young people out of the job market. At the same time, South Africa faces massive shortages in key professions in the health, education and safety sectors, which have negatively affected the quality of the services provided.

In the basic education sector, the massive exodus of teachers has not been counteracted by a supply of an equivalent number of new teachers. These pressures have been felt disproportionately in rural areas. In the public health sector, according to the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA), there is a shortage of at least 80,000 nurses which is steadily growing. Furthermore, in an era of unprecedented crime and violence in South Africa, we need about 14,000 detectives to wage an effective war against crime.

We need to grow the economy at a much faster rate if we are going to absorb the millions of young people who want to work but cannot find employment. Every young, unemployed graduate and matriculant deserves a chance to access the job opportunities that are available.

The DA believes drastic action is needed to remove the barriers that are preventing young people from getting a job and at the same time make South Africa a more attractive investment destination.

The DA has developed a plan to create fair access to real, long-term jobs.

Once in national government, the DA will introduce a one-year Voluntary National Service (VNS) to provide work experience to unemployed matriculants through work-based training in the community healthcare, basic education and police fields.

The healthcare stream will be geared towards providing administrative assistants to clinics and public hospitals across the country. Participants of this stream will be enrolled in a one-year community health worker qualification. Top performers will receive scholarships to study as qualified nurses to feed back into the skills-deprived public health service.

The education stream will be geared towards providing underserved schools with teacher’s assistants to do administrative work, sports coaching, cultural initiatives and so on. Participants of this course will also partake in basic educator skills courses such as early childhood development programmes. Top performers in this stream will go on to receive funding to study teaching degrees and diplomas and will be afforded an opportunity to do bridging courses.

The policing stream would see participants join newly established police academies across the country. They will simultaneously join members of local law enforcement on daily patrols to gain an understanding of their role in the community, while also receiving training to become a certified police officer.

Similar programmes have been developed in other countries such as Americorps (in the US), the Canada Service Corps (CSC) and the European Solidarity Corps (ESC). Americorps trains young people to complete hands-on projects as well as assisting with disaster relief efforts. There is no good reason why a similar programme cannot be introduced in South Africa.

All these programmes are intended to attract young people to serve their country and broader community and build a sense of civic duty and engagement. The programme would include a stipend and give students the opportunity to get a permanent job by providing relevant skills and training.

The DA’s Voluntary National Service will develop a relevant skills base that gives our young people access to jobs and helps us to build one South Africa for all. DM

Geordin Hill-Lewis MP is Chief of Staff in the DA Leader’s Office. He is also the DA’s Team1SA spokesperson on Access to Jobs.


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