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THE YOUTH wage subsidy sparked a spat in Parliament yesterday when MPs marked tomorrow’s 36th anniversary of the June 16, 1976 uprising with a special debate.
Currently one in four South Africans has no formal job and just over 70 percent of them are under the age of 35 – bearing the brunt of the crisis of poverty, unemployment and growing inequality.
ANC MP Mmamaloko Khubayi said the ANC was committed to implementing the youth wage subsidy first announced by President Jacob Zuma two years ago, and for which the finance minister has set aside R5 billion – but which is opposed by Cosatu and alliance youth formations.
Khubayi defended the delays in rolling out the scheme, saying it was important that everyone’s concerns were addressed.
The scheme is aimed at making it easier for first-time job entrants to be hired and get work experience. Cosatu says the scheme will see older workers displaced by younger people cheaper to hire.
“It is concerning that opposition parties, especially the DA, have been pushing government to implement this and disregard the concerns of the stakeholders,” Khubayi said.
The DA was pushing Zuma and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to “ignore a critical process in Nedlac”, yet at other times it accused the ANC-led government of bulldozing things through without listening to dissenting voices.
“There are concerns that need to be addressed… We don’t want to see what we saw when learnerships were implemented, where in some companies learners were… making coffee and photocopying, rather than being skilled. Young people in this country deserve better. We want permanent solutions to the challenges they are faced with.”
There is concern in government circles that many of those at the forefront of often violent and destructive protests around the country are young, while Cosatu leader Zwelinzima Vavi has warned that the ANC and its alliance partners needs to turn around a situation where its leaders are nowhere to be seen at such protests.
Cosatu and its affiliates have had to try to explain their position on the youth wage subsidy, while the DA has tried to portray the federation as selfishly ignoring the plight of unemployed young people in order to protect the interests of organised workers.
Khubayi condemned those who were instigating violence by urging people to find inspiration in the Arab Spring revolts that toppled regimes in countries like Libya and Egypt.
DA MP Geordin Hill-Lewis was heckled when he held up a series of photographs of the faces of young unemployed people, listing their names and ages, after reminding the House that the generation of youth that rose up in SA nearly four decades ago “started a movement that toppled a government”.
“The same will happen again if this government continues to turn its gaze from the many ordinary people who are the face of youth unemployment,” Hill-Lewis said.
The DA had received “hundreds” of responses when it asked jobless youths to send in their photos and stories for a “faces of unemployment” campaign that party leader Helen Zille is to launch in Soweto tomorrow.
Hill-Lewis said that unless the government acted with urgency, it too would find itself “at the mercy of a generation of fed-up, ignored, marginalised and angry South Africans”.
The youth wage subsidy was not a cure-all, but would open the door of the job market just wide enough for first-time job seekers to get their foot in.
It was “bizarre” to be arguing about a problem when most of the parties in Parliament had already agreed the youth wage subsidy was a solution. KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize had come out in support of it this week.
The only question was why the government was “allowing itself to be dictated to by its union allies”, who had never stood for election, had not a single seat in Parliament and represented people with jobs, Hill-Lewis said.
Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said it did not help to “stand on the rooftops and shout at each other”.
“We are all of us striving to put systems together to help the young people get what they want,” he said.
He warned young people to be wary of those who wanted to exploit them for their own political gain and urged them not to destroy property during protests.
l Zuma will be speaking at the official Youth Day event at the Wolfson Stadium in Port Elizabeth tomorrow. This year’s theme is “Working Together We Can Do More to Build Infrastructure and Fight Youth Unemployment, Poverty and Inequality”.