A nation that does not take care of its youth has no future and does not deserve one – OR Tambo

South Africa – with a median age of 26 – is a young country. It is also a country with high levels of unemployment, poverty, and shocking inequality. Most of these structural problems are felt most acutely in and by the young, unsurprising given the country’s age profile.

According to Statistics SA data, unemployment among working age youth (15-34 years) accelerated to 54.5 percent in the first quarter of 2016, from 50.4 in 2015.

Young people, therefore, make up nearly three quarters of South Africa’s 26 percent unemployment problem.

This suggests that South Africa will solve none of its long-standing developmental deficits without crafting determined, dynamic, well-thought out and properly funded youth development strategies. Every immediate or long-term economic, political or social problem that characterises the South Africa of 2016 – poor education and lack of skills, crime, corruption, joblessness, racism, violence, deindustrialisation, tepid economic performance, the disintegration of the political fabric – can all be made to yield with a singular focus on the development of the young.

Developing youth

South Africa should have had, from the dawn of democracy, a national youth development policy with a holistic multipronged strategy to attack all the developmental deficits suffered by our country’s youth. Such a policy framework would have also required the creating of a competent and well resourced single national agency for youth development. In order to fulfill a varied mandate encompassing research and policy-making, skills training and education, venture funding and support, social advocacy, political education, and work placement, such an agency would need to be properly governed, well managed, adequately funded, and staffed by the best skills in the respective service areas. Sadly, South Africa has never invested, either politically or financially, in having such an institution.

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As the country marks the 40th commemoration of the June 16 uprising of young people, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to assess how South Africa stacks up on matters of youth policy and development. And thus we decided that the 5th edition of the Independent World of Work would be dedicated to this subject.

This edition, which is printed in Thursday’s copy of The Star, Pretoria News, the Cape Times, The Mercury and the Diamond Fields Advertiser, is both a salute to the bravery and sacrifice of the youth 1976, and an expression of commitment to the youth of 2016.

The latter faces a struggle to survive and get ahead as significant as that of their predecessors, even if the terrain of struggle has shifted almost unrecognisably over the last four decades. The theme running through our edition is ‘Empower the youth to power South Africa’s development’.

Sadly, though, the edition does not make for the most encouraging reading for those that care deeply about the centrality of youth in national development. Both the experience of putting it together and the final product lead to one alarming conclusion: there is too much still to be done and too little time before it becomes too late.

The state’s youth policy, now in its second iteration (2015-2020), is a comprehensive and even well thought out plan, but appears no more effective now than when it was first adopted in 2009. The problem, in part, is that many government departments do their own youth planning and implementing, usually as adjunct to their regular work, with no integration and coordination across national departments or across provinces.

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The more important problem is that the entity founded in 2008 to carry out this coordination is the National Youth Development Agency, an organisation that leaves too much to be desired. There is no evidence that the agency meets any of the criteria set out above for an effective driver of youth development. The near absolute absence of the NYDA in the public space during the entirety of Youth Month is proof of this.

In the print edition, deputy minister Buti Manamela, responsible for youth development in the Presidency, gives us a rundown of what the state is doing in line with the second National Youth Policy.

Economics guru Neva Makgetla discusses the link between employment, education and race, while young economist Ayabonga Cawe speaks to the political, cultural and class dimensions of exclusion in the country’s job market.

Two academics, Ariane de Lannoy of UCT and Lauren Graham of UJ, attempt to offer short term solutions in breaking down barriers of entry to the labour market for young people.

On the theme of solutions, trade union Solidarity’s Dirk Hermann writes about what labour can do to boost skilling and education of their members to ensure they have a competitive edge when they start working.

We also have young entrepreneur and self-branding expert Kate Moodley giving tips on what young jobseekers can do to strike a positive image in the competitive careers market of the 21st century.

Last, but certainly not least, the supplement attempts to empower young entrepreneurs and wealth creators by providing guidance on how to access to funding for their businesses.

Get your copy in any of the Independent titles mentioned above, or access it online from Friday, July 1 atiwow.iol.co.za