Defend Truth


Addressing youth unemployment — an opportunity to build a society we will be proud to call home


Zaki is the Education and Training Officer in the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s Youth Activism Programme and is a member of the Socialist Youth Movement. If you would like to get involved with the Youth Day Parade for Justice and Change please contact: Zaki Mamdoo: 081 395 9738; Irfaan Mangera: 072 910 8483; Kabelo Kemp: 072 057 1922; Obakeng Kgatshe: 084 675 9483.

Unfortunately, blissful ignorance is no longer an option for young people in our world today. On 16 June the Youth Day Parade for Justice and Change will call on government to realign itself with the needs of our people and to seriously rethink its priorities. One of the issues that needs urgent action is youth unemployment.

In meeting the crisis of youth unemployment head-on, we need to contemplate the lived experiences of our youth. Our desire to create opportunity and employment for young people must reflect our desire to ensure that young people have full, and tangible, access to the rights and freedoms afforded to them by our Constitution. 

This overarching goal requires us to understand the lived experiences of our youth so that we can use the task of creating employment to simultaneously ensure that young people enter into forms of work that are characteristic of existing within a truly equal, just, non-racial, non-sexist and of course, secure and inhabitable society. 

As it stands, youth in South Africa are perpetually bombarded by all manner of social ills. 

We find ourselves immersed in a brutally violent, uncaring, exclusionary, and increasingly unstable and insecure context. Due to the interlinked nature of our crises — be they gender-based violence and femicide, climate change, inequality, hunger, homelessness, intergenerational trauma, academic exclusion, spatial apartheid, mental health-related issues, poverty and/or youth unemployment — we cannot separate the need to create employment and opportunity from the need to transcend all the other issues which also work to unravel the fabric of our society.

Against this backdrop — one which is rooted in relentless profiteering, dispossession, exploitation, and the destruction caused by extractive industry — young people need to mobilise and organise to ensure that the crisis of youth unemployment is transcended alongside the widespread upliftment of substantive freedoms and significantly improved climate stability. 

If we are complacent, and if we do not centre the qualitative experiences of young people nor vigorously measure the real-life impacts of policy interventions, we risk job creation becoming a meagre check-box activity and numbers game that is played on inaccessible platforms by those who neither understand nor empathise with the reality of being young, systemically uncared for, and excluded in South Africa.

Through organisation and struggle, however, we will be able to achieve collective and democratic ownership of an economy that is underpinned by sustainable, participatory, and meaningful forms of work that serve the common good, aid the mending of our institutions, support the healing of our people, and realise material abundance for all.

Unfortunately, blissful ignorance is no longer an option for young people in our world today. The unravelling of our society and the proliferation of hardship is a direct result of the corruption, ingenuine leadership, clout-chasing, money-grabbing, and divisive politics that typify the realms of governance and development in South Africa. 

Existing forms of politicking are outdated and unhelpful. 

Likewise, our economic orientation is flawed and cannot be sustained. Both are narrowly focussed and are beholden to the sinister and destructive desires of profit and competition. For this reason, neither can attend to the intersecting needs of our people. After all, both polity and economy fail to contemplate, with understanding and empathy, the lived experiences and aspirations of millions.

Looking to the future

Following the failures of many who came before us, it has become the task of young people to provide an alternative and to save ourselves and each other from a disaster we did not create. We are legitimate stakeholders in the developmental, governance, and justice agendas and we must conscientise, organise, and mobilise one another in simultaneous pursuit of each. 

Youth unemployment is a crisis as much as it is an opportunity. 

Collectively, we can use it to fight for jobs and opportunities that do better, and which are qualitatively better. As it stands, we are noticeably neglected and have yet to be put to work in defining and creating these jobs and opportunities. Let us then put ourselves to work in pursuit of a wholly just society! 

We must see the interlinked crises I have described above as an opportunity to rid ourselves of failed policies and ingenuine leadership. If anything, our crises are spurring movement and action from all manner of invested organisations, groups, and individuals. Thus, we find ourselves presented with a unique and special opportunity to build a society that we will be proud to call home. One in which all persons have access to social protections, meaningful forms of work, healthcare, education, shelter, opportunity, nutrition, safety, and a sense of belonging. 

Ultimately, this is the only way in which the true development of our society can be measured. Unfortunately, our current cohort of powerful elites, tenderpreneurs, and multi-national corporations equate their profits to social growth. Young people need then to realise our collective power to force a paradigm shift that rethinks the ways in which society is organised and how wealth is distributed in an effort to meet our shared needs and collective development. 

We have begun the process of organising a critical mass of young people in pursuit of justice, equality, and higher forms of freedom. The Youth Day Parade for Justice and Change, convened by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s Youth Activism Programme, has brought together over 80 organisations (and counting) to converge on the Union Buildings on 16 June. Through this process, we — the youth — seek to reignite the courage and spirit of 1976 within the hearts of the youth today. We must unite in our call on government to realign itself with the needs of our people and to seriously rethink its priorities. The reality of our crises has left us with no other option. 

Forward we move, to a society we will be proud to call home. DM/MC



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Craig B says:

    The youth are not excluded on purpose. The jobs that they need do not yet exist. Additionally BEE has resulted in the black business elite being the only business owners enjoying full freedoms to create jobs and employ. The other race groups are regulated to death so they are more inclined to down size and invest in things other than job creating business. This will be the future of jobs in SA and micro and small business if you can get one going. Fighting for jobs that basically don’t exist yet is a waste of time.

  • Change is Good says:

    I admire and thank Zaki Mamdoo and The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation for what they are doing on 16th June.
    Can the Editor of Daily Maverick please take note of this and do a series of interviews with all the youth organisations that are taking part. Let’s hear from our youth as to what they are doing or would do to change South Africa to a better path.
    I would much rather this became the daily discourse instead of the sickening antics of the ANC and other publicly violent political parties. Let’s give our youth some airtime. Let’s change the narrative of South Africa. We can only change our thinking if we tell people about the great things that we do every day.
    Zaki is right, every problem to solve is a job opportunity.

  • Miles Japhet says:

    When the ANC starts creating an environment free of racist legislation and over regulation, the economy will grow and the youth will have hope. Sorting SADTU out is also critical to educate the youth to be able to function in a modern economy.

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