This year marks the 45th anniversary of the June 16 uprising, when in 1976 the youth of this country stood up against the system of Bantu education and confronted the oppressive, racist, apartheid regime.
Designed by one of the founding fathers and architects of apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd, this education system was aimed at limiting access to education and economic opportunities for black people in general, particularly Africans. This education system, in Verwoerd’s words, was meant to reduce us to second-class subservient citizens whose role was to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water”.
The brave youth of this country would have none of that.
Armed with nothing but stones and dustbin lids employed as shields, they confronted the most powerful police and army on the continent. This is the reason we celebrate Youth Month every year, in remembrance of this bravery.
Without doubt, youth unemployment is top of the priority list and the reason this year’s theme is: “The Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke: Growing youth employment for an inclusive and transformed society.”
The youth play a pivotal role in the transformation of societies. The most successful and innovative economies are those that have primarily understood the potential that lies in their youth. In his 1991 message to the youth of South Africa, ANC president OR Tambo said the youth has “the responsibility to make a reality of the vision of a new South Africa which is enshrined in the Freedom Charter we adopted in 1955. You must be in a position to equip yourselves to accept this responsibility”.
Hence, this year’s January 8 statement of the ANC presented by President Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted the important question of youth unemployment. According to the statement, “We have to achieve higher levels of economic growth and investment. We have to create jobs and bring more black South Africans, women and youth into the mainstream of economic activity.”
Indeed, for our youth to look forward to a brighter future we must create opportunities for them to be technically equipped to competently survive in the fast-digitalising economy.
However, we cannot be oblivious to the reality that, as we celebrate Youth Month, many of our young people are mired in abject poverty and chronic unemployment. Our young people remain vulnerable in the labour market.
The Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the first quarter of 2020 painted a grim picture for young people aged 15–34, with over 20 million affected by joblessness. By the first quarter of 2021, according to Statistics South Africa, the rate of youth unemployment had increased to over 63%. This situation, if not arrested immediately, is likely to have a devastating impact on our communities.
In line with President Ramaphosa’s commitment to roll out a process for public employment programmes to create opportunities for the youth, we are doing our bit in Mpumalanga.
To this end, we have launched and operationalised the Youth Development Fund with a budget of R50-million for the first phase. Through this programme, we have called upon the young people of Mpumalanga to apply, especially those who are running small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs). These enterprises are then provided with training and funding to grow the operational footprint.
The role of SMMEs in tackling unemployment and contributing to economic growth is recognised the world over. Working with national and provincial agencies, we can create a conducive policy environment for SMMEs to thrive. After all, they are the backbone of many big economies globally. Employment generated can have a significant impact in dealing with the challenge of youth joblessness.
Young people today are facing a different struggle for economic emancipation. This challenge must be our generational mission to do everything in our power to transform the economy and create access for our youth in line with government’s medium-term strategic framework key priority number two on economic transformation and job creation, as we stride towards our Vision 2030 on the reduction of unemployment.
We must use all instruments at our disposal to assist the youth in this struggle.
Government is another lever we should use to positively impact the economy. It is for this reason that we, as the Mpumalanga provincial government, have identified important economic measures to drive job creation for the youth while fighting the scourge of poverty and inequality.
To this effect, we perceive our tourism sector as an opportunity that can be leveraged for economic growth. Although the sector is currently struggling due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are working hard to turn the situation around. It is on this basis that we welcomed the national government’s R1.2-billion Tourism Equity Fund aimed at improving the participation of black entrepreneurs in this sector. This intervention will go a long way in cushioning the burden and assist small and emerging businesses.
Driven by our desire to fight youth unemployment, we have made a concerted effort to revive tourism and attract tourists to our province. In this regard, we have put more impetus into the public-private partnerships to develop the God’s Window skywalk project, the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains World Heritage Site and the Railway Heritage Tourism projects.
We recognise the negative impact Covid-19 has had on employment, as well as the concerning reality of rapidly rising food prices in these trying times. Nutritious and affordable food is vital not only to help protect families against Covid-19, but also to help youth development.
We are also aware of climate change and its possible impact on food prices, as input costs such as fuel rises together with increasingly destructive flood events, droughts, hail and wildfires, among others. These contribute to higher crop losses and damage. As a province, we are putting in place educational programmes to help educate and inspire everyone to grow their own nutritious vegetables, even in small spaces and on hard surfaces.
To this end, our youth are encouraged to participate in growing food at home, with a view to increasing production of produce which can be sold through the agri-hubs being rolled out by the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs. Growing one’s own food is like printing one’s own money, and we must look for all opportunities to turn compostable materials into black gold (compost), and to utilise the compost to grow nutritious food.
Covid-19, climate change and the ailing economy must not now, or any time in the future, hold us back from providing our families with nutritious and affordable food.
We are also investigating the feasibility of carbon-sequestering crops, such as giant bamboo, which have the potential to create green jobs and help fight climate change.
We must do everything in our power to unleash youth potential not just because we are morally bound, but because this is a prerequisite to unleash our economic potential and take the country to greater heights.
This is the only way we can repay the sacrifices that many young people like Nokuthula Simelane made for us to enjoy this freedom. DM