Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa greets young people attending the National Youth Day Commemoration at the Galeshewe Stadium in Kimberley. Picture: A Grobler

Kimberley - South Africa's youth unemployment could be the country's single most critical challenge, said Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday.

“If we could effectively address youth unemployment, not only would we lift millions of South Africans out of poverty, but we would also place our economy on a trajectory of sustainable, inclusive growth,” said Ramaphosa at the national youth day commemoration in Galeshewe, in the Northern Cape.

He said the youth needed to be at the centre of this economic transformation.

Ramaphosa said that although many opportunities had been created for the youth in the past 20 years, young people still faced many problems.

The deputy president said the country needed to focus on special measures to ensure that the youth had access to training, work experience, jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.

“We must make sure that they are able to take up the opportunities. Go on with their lives.”

Ramaphosa said a co-ordinated and multi-pronged response to youth unemployment was needed.

“It must be present in every policy discussion, in every law drafted, in every strategic plan developed,” he said.

Despite the current situation, Ramaphosa said the country had made progress in various areas concerning the youth.

He said twice as many young people were currently in universities than in 1994.

“Nearly half of the six million work opportunities created through the public works and community work programmes were for young people.”

Ramaphosa said in the last five years R 2.7 billion had been set aside for youth entrepreneurship finance and support. The amount available for student bursaries had doubled.

“But we need to do more,” Ramaphosa said.

One problem that needed urgent attention was the relatively low skill levels among unemployed young people.

The deputy president said the country needed to develop the skills that the economy required.

“The intake of students for post-school education would therefore be massively expanded over the next five years,” he said.

Ramaphosa said the aim would be to enrol the majority of youth aged 18 to 23 years.

Executive chairman of the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) Yershen Pillay told the gathering South Africa's young people needed to take responsibility for their own future.

He said various deliberate efforts had been made to develop the youth.

“Many received support, but many more need support.”

He said the NYDA would work with government to develop the youth.

“Together we would facilitate development with the society.”

He urged the private and public sectors to priorities youth service everywhere. - Sapa