Maverick Citizen

Opinionista

As agents of positive change, young people need strategic support from government

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Solly Msimanga is DA provincial leader in Gauteng.

Young people who do not have a seat at the table of power are not waiting for parcels or grants or slogans or rhetoric. They are looking for decisive leadership that will include their ideas in shaping and driving an agenda for the country.

It has been more than eight years since students of higher learning mobilised themselves and protested at institutions of higher education and training across the country for access to free and quality higher education.

Like the Class of 1976 who protested against the sole use of Afrikaans as the official medium of instruction in schools, these students reminded the nation of the level of agency, the vibrancy of opposition and the political consciousness that young people possess. They also challenged the idea of so-called youth apathy.  

It has been demonstrated repeatedly that, given the opportunity, our youth can be agents of positive change in their communities.  

Yet, despite their efforts, young people equally continue to face and fight a complex reality between the country’s colonialism and apartheid history and democracy. 

The reality is that young people make up more than half of South Africa’s population, yet the rate of young people not in education, employment or formal training is alarming. According to Stats SA, in the first quarter of 2023 about 3.7 million (36.1%) out of 10.2 million young people aged 15-24 were not in employment, education or training (referred to as NEETs). This percentage stood at 44.7% for the expanded 15-34 age group.  

Many young people who are NEETs live in historically disadvantaged areas, including townships, informal settlements, hostels and rural communities, where entrepreneurial and work opportunities are limited. 

Stats SA further revealed that youth aged 15-24 and 25-34 recorded the highest unemployment rates – of 62.1% and 40.7%, respectively. In Gauteng, more specifically, the unemployment rate was at 34.3%, with the City of Joburg at 32.7%, the City of Tshwane at 35% and the City of Ekurhuleni at 33.4%. 

Furthermore, out of the 2,513,350 learners who the Department of Basic Education enrolled in the 2021 academic year in Gauteng, only 2,252,291 returned to school in the 2022 academic year in grades 1 to 12. Of the balance of 110,381 learners who were lost in the system, 53,935 are still of school-going age.  

Furthermore, in addition to the high number of young people who are NEETs, our economy is unable to absorb many of our graduates due to skills that are not aligned with the needs of the country’s economy.  

The persistently high numbers of youth who are NEETs in the country, together with nearly three decades of maladministration and misappropriation of public funds meant for service delivery, demonstrates a potentially explosive situation that requires urgent attention.  

Young people who do not currently have a seat at the table of power are not waiting for parcels or grants or slogans or rhetoric, but are looking for decisive leadership that will include their expressions and ideas in shaping and driving the youth agenda for the future sustainability of the country; leadership that will fulfil the promises that have been made to them by the ANC-led national government through various public engagement platforms such as the National Development Plan (NDP) 2030, the National Youth Plan and National Youth Desk.  

Young people need strategic support. This support begins with education. The young scholars in Katlehong require access to quality basic and higher education, empowering and equipping them not only to one day become an employee who can be absorbed into the labour market, but also inculcating a consciousness and spirit of entrepreneurship in them from a young age, so that they can build, operate and sustain businesses of their own.  

Young people require a capable state that will co-create, in collaboration with the private sector, a conducive environment for economic development and growth to create employment opportunities. 

Young entrepreneurs in Alexandra township require non-financial and financial support for their businesses, helping to create work opportunities in their same community. 

The young jobseeker from Soweto requires an affordable, efficient, dependable, and safe integrated transport system to access work and other opportunities outside of Soweto to overcome the unfair and unjust legacy of apartheid spatial planning.  

Young victims of gender-based violence and other crimes in Orange Farm require access to an ethical and well-resourced and trained South African Police Service (SAPS). They also need reassurance that government prioritises their personal safety.  

Young people in Emfuleni Local Municipality need access to efficient and quality basic services such as electricity, water and sanitation. 

If the socioeconomic plight of our vulnerable youth in particular can be sufficiently addressed, the social ills related to substance abuse, gender-based violence, homophobia and transphobia, and teenage pregnancy can be addressed. 

In the DA’s South Africa, young people will have equal access to the opportunity to build and live a life that they value and that can be of value to their respective communities. This South Africa is dynamic and innovative, with a growing, inclusive economy and a capable and caring government which ensures equal opportunity for all, including young people who the organisation knows and understands can and will help unlock the potential of the country. 

The hard-won victory of political freedom in 1994 through the efforts of the youth of the Class of 1976 should remind those in power and who are mandated by young people today to do the right thing and, if not, to reap the wrath of the youth’s justified frustration at the ballot box in the elections next year. DM 

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