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Draft National Youth Policy 2030 offers a glimpse into how uncoordinated state machinery is


Njabulo Zwane is junior researcher (humanity) at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, Mistra.

The Draft National Youth Policy 2030 is said to be a ‘cross-sectoral’ one whose interventions will be implemented by an ‘integrated’ youth development strategy. But, reading through its assessment of the challenges faced by previous implementation strategies, one gets a glimpse into how uncoordinated the state and its government machinery is.

The National Youth Policy (NYP) 2020 notes that “young people feel excluded, largely due to high unemployment rates and their inability to participate economically”. This observation is indicative of the cold inter-generational war in South Africa. In February, the Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, called for public comments to a draft of the latest iteration of the policy (NYP 2030). 

In its online petition to the minister, asking for an extension of the 16 March 2020 deadline, the advocacy NGO says that “the draft document is a copy-and-paste of this current policy”. Considering that the department had five years to conduct a review and update its proposals accordingly, this is quite an indictment, and can be read as adding fuel to the feelings of anger and resentment that young people have towards the older generation. I agree with that the amount of consultation for this process (if any) was inadequate; the less said about the closing date for public input the better. In lieu of a submission to the minister, the following can be read as my response to the policy.

My longstanding criticism of much of the discourse around “the youth” is that it tends to treat young people as a homogenous group, without any racial and/or class differences. Besides the usual government-speak of “the intent to redress the wrongs and injustices of the past”, the Draft NYP 2030 is guilty of glossing over the structural dimensions of South African society.

Because it merely assumes and does not articulate these differences, the draft policy fails to account for why the problem of generational transition into the economy seemingly occurs in the black community only. I say this because the white and wealthy sections of our population are known to use their private school and university alumni networks to facilitate economic inclusion.

The repeated failure of the ANC to facilitate a genuine “generational mix” reminds one of Gramsci’s interregnum, because it is clear that the old is refusing to die (or at least step down) for new ideas to flourish.

Following from the document’s failure to articulate the racial and class differences in society is its superficial reading of social cohesion and nation-building. 

The research that the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (Mistra) conducted as part of the Indlulamithi South Africa Scenarios 2030 found that intergenerational trauma is rife among young black people. This immense sense of woundedness is said to be a key driving force for the prospects of social cohesion, but one wonders if the drafters of the NYP 2030 are aware that the “unity of purpose” the document strives for is impossible if we cannot agree that apartheid was a crime against humanity, for example.

The participation of young people in elections is seen within the frame of nation-building, and in this regard the document says that “there has been [an] increase in voter registration”. This is bizarre if one thinks back to the talk about young people’s disillusionment with the electoral system that flooded the public discourse in the lead-up to the 2019 general elections.

Mistra’s election report contradicts the NYP 2030 and finds that: “The 18-to-19-year-old demographic has had both the lowest voter turnout and the lowest registration rate of all age groups in the country in 2019. The 20-to-29-year-olds followed with slightly higher electoral interest, yet they were also still far behind the rest of the age categories.”

Again, this is indicative of the pessimism, which manifests itself as apathy and/or disillusionment, among young people. Because it assumes that the past has passed (which contributes to its superficial reading of socio-economic relations), the NYP 2030 fails to give a concrete way out of what Prof Njabulo Ndebele referred to as the “space of anguish” that the (black and poor) youth of this country are locked in. 

The Draft NYP 2030 is said to be a “cross-sectoral” policy, whose interventions will be implemented by an “integrated” youth development strategy. But, reading through its assessment of the challenges faced by previous implementation strategies, one gets a glimpse into how uncoordinated the state and its government machinery is. 

The incapacity of the state is a major reason why the proposals of the current policy have yet to be implemented. Disappointingly, except for a change in order and headings, the policy interventions are exactly the same as the ones proposed in the NYP 2020. One wonders if this is the result of laziness or a sense of optimism in the current administration to finally get things done, but one thing is for sure: the lack of co-ordination and capacity in the state makes many of the wide-ranging and good-intentioned proposals sound like pipe dreams. DM


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