A simple chat with young South Africans of any age will give you a greater understanding of what needs to be fixed in our country.
Whether you listen to a 10-year old who is struggling to read, or their older sibling who is being terrorised by gangs at high school, it is concerning.
Earlier this year, we saw many sorrowful social media posts from the Matric Class of 2022, who were not accepted into public higher education institutions despite good matric results, and their having spent a lot of effort with applications to secure admission.
The few who managed to gain university admission had to spend hours in the streets because their basic needs took too long to be attended to. We also read with great awe how students from one public institution were terrorised by armed criminals, who trespassed onto university property and vandalised a residence before robbing students.
And many of us have listened to graduates telling us how they have spent a fortune relocating or criss-crossing the country seeking employment. Some successful, some not. This as South Africa's unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2023 was recorded at 32.9 %, and is among the highest in the world – a very bleak statistic that confronts graduates entering the job market.
Some have gone on to start businesses, a move which has its own set of challenges. Due to the country’s difficult economic environment, many entrepreneurs are struggling to scale and grow their businesses.
Young people who have managed to find work are also struggling to survive on their starter salaries due to the high costs of living. Often these young people have to support families at home, while at the same time trying to establish a fair standard of living and securing their own or their children's future. They are just pressed on both sides.
While the youth languish at home with various skills that could aid the country’s service delivery and grow its gross domestic product, many communities still do not have eventhe basic facilities that make life habitable.
Clean drinking water is now not guaranteed due to the government’s negligence. Recent deadly cholera outbreaks are a red flag, signalling how decimated our basic services have become.
As winter sets in ,causing many people to suffer from flu, hospitals and clinics are understaffed. They are also under-resourced and therefore less effective. That is why some of these facilities are resorting to putting newborn babies in cardboard boxes.
Many businesses, especially those operating in rural areas, struggle to meet community demands. After travelling long hours, customers are greeted by notices or staff informing them they cannot operate their equipment because there is no power, or the network is down.
Community schools are also finding it increasingly difficult to deliver on their mandate. Learners and teachers, who ought to keep the wheels of the system turning, are contending with many challenges that are beyond the system. Many schools have lost many teaching hours because water does not flow from their taps, or learners and students cannot cross overflowing rivers to get there when it rains.
How has the country navigated itself into this state of affairs? All the above challenges hit young people the hardest. In these circumstances, commemorating Youth Day proves unreasonable.
Crime, from the newbie amateurs to the skilled professionals, is left largely unchecked as the police can’t get to grips with the problem amid such depressed socio-economic conditions.
The unemployed youth statistics of today are the criminal statistic of the future. A poverty-stricken youth today will in future be sickly, or become a parent who dies and leaves a young child behind with no one to provide for them. A young person who faces inequality today, will in future cause unrest.
To help solve some of the challenges, municipalities (both local and district) ought to work together with provincial and national governments, They should develop and support initiatives that will attract youth into programmes that help better their communities and brighten the country’s future prospects, rather than the path of crime.
The country must sit down to devise strategies that will make sure the challenges that the youth find themselves facing will not continue into the future.
The country should ask itself now how it will ensure that every single learner who is doing matric this year will be set on a good career path next year, whatever form that may take.
A proactive approach is required by all South Africans – public and private – to overcome the current hurdles youth face. To prevent a cycle in which the next generation's youth will have to deal with problems the previous generation passed on to them. Only then can we start to give youth the Youth Day they deserve. One with hope and a clear road forward. Not this cul-de-sac South Africa has driven itself into.
Given Majola is a BR journalist with a passion for socio-economic reporting.