GROWING up as a boy in Lesotho, herding calves and donkeys and later looking after cattle, one aspired for adulthood. The ambition was to have the authority over how the whole chicken was distributed.
It came down to who got the breast and thighs of the chicken, which was a symbol of manhood and of being the head of household privilege, whereas the legs, head and gizzards were distributed to the children.
Another past time dream was of eating bread and drinking tea, which were privileges largely preserved for the men and manhood. These were cohort ambitions.
Demography teaches us about cohorts, which are sets of regiments measured in terms of age. Cohorts can be measured against specific attributes, which reflect progress or a lack thereof. A cohort approach to social progress, therefore, remains a very powerful instrument for answering the question of whether or not a nation is on a path towards addressing pressing social, economic and political imperatives that a nation has set out to achieve. The emergence of social and/or political movements against regimes takes the form of cohorts or regiments.
Today we remind ourselves of such a cohort, that of 1976, to whom Youth Day is dedicated.
South Africa defines the youth as those of 34 years and below. South Africa this year commemorates 47 years of the class of 1976, the year the youth of South Africa demonstrated what was possible against a mighty apartheid regime. They made a significant contribution in bringing freedom closer by cutting the horizon to 1994, which marked the end of apartheid in South Africa with general elections not defined by race
To this end they defined the broad agenda for a successful youth and a successful country. They did that at great sacrifice and cost both to the immediacy of their education and direct prospects of life. But to this end they were clear about what the future of those who followed after them should be, thus joining the wave of what a democratic and prosperous South Africa should be.
This class of 1976 no doubt accelerated the path towards and the time horizon of freedom. For without such an impetus the horizon would have definitely been farther out and its content could have been probably defined differently. In our statement of intent, the youth are central, and every party structure largely has a youth arm of its political architecture. Thus, the shell of organising and organisation have all the right youth informed optics. But the content and impacts reflect the true current and future generational nightmares facing the youth of this country.
The biggest nightmare of our black and coloured youth is in the form of losses in education. These are seismic and characterise a bottomless water bucket. As of the 70s albeit with relatively emaciated participation at universities, the cohort of black and coloured youth has progressed at a ratio of 1 compared to 1.2 for whites. Today that ratio has deteriorated to 1 compared to 6.
From a performance point of view, blacks and coloureds have performed dismally in terms of progression and completion relative to whites and Indians at universities. In fact black and coloured education has become wasteful in terms of completion rates. It has enjoyed high “fatalities” or exits without completion.
In terms of employment outcomes, it appears the youth of 1976 achieved a prophecy of chicken breast and thighs as well as bread and tea. Within 10 years from 2008, the youth started losing their absolute share in employment and this was transferred to adults. And by 2023, the youth employed aged 15-24 numbered 1.05 million from 1.6m in 2008.
For those aged 25-34, their share of 4.8m in 2008 had dropped to 4.5m, and their unemployed number had grown from 2.5m to 4.5m in 14 years. The only gains made in employment were among adults who are 35 years and above.
Our youthful dreams of almost 60 years of aspirations of delivering chicken legs and gizzards to our children when reaching adulthood have become true for the youth of 2023. All they get are gizzards and chicken legs.
The 1976 dream has not only been deferred, but has been dismembered and stolen and kept by the elder cohort of 35-64. What is to be done to reclaim it back by the rightful cohort of 15-34, the dream team of 1976?
Dr Pali Lehohla is the director of the Economic Modelling Academy, a Professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg, a Research Associate at Oxford University, a board member of Institute for Economic Justice at Wits and a distinguished Alumni of the University of Ghana. He is the former Statistician-General of South Africa.