The comments made by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the State of the Nation address (Sona) on youth unemployment and the extension of the social relief of distress grant (SRD) were not well received by analysts dealing with youth unemployment.
In his speech, Ramaphosa praised his government’s efforts, and specifically the Presidential Employment Stimulus (PES) that was launched three years ago.
“Through this programme, we have created more than 1.7 million work and livelihood opportunities. We have placed more than 1 million school assistants in 23,000 schools, providing participants with valuable work experience, while improving learning outcomes,” according to the President.
The third quarter of 2023 Stats SA results showed that the number of unemployed youth (15 to 34 years) decreased by 174,000, to 4.6 million, while there was an increase of 237,000 in the number of employed youth, to six million.
This resulted in a decrease in the youth unemployment rate by 1.9 percentage points from 45.3% in quarter two 2023 to 43.4% in quarter three.
When these figures were released, Afrika Tikkun, a transformative development partner, said that youth unemployment remains a massive economic setback in SA.
The organisation noted that SA is losing more than R8.5 billion in lost export revenue due to more than 28,000 digital and ICT jobs outsourced to other countries.
HOW DID SONA FALL SHORT?
Onyi Nwaneri, Deputy CEO of Afrika Tikkun Group said that Ramaphosa needed a reality check.
Ramaphosa’s speech appears to be an early celebration of anti-corruption reforms, downplaying the effect of state capture on youth development, education and empowerment in South Africa, Nwaneri noted
During his address, Ramaphosa told the hypothetical success story of Tintswalo, a young girl who overcame generational inequality and poverty, thanks to the services and opportunities provided by the government throughout her life.
“The reality in the communities we serve, is that for every Tintswalo, there are millions of children and young people still let down by the systems in which they are told to place their hope. Corruption, state capture and ethical erosion in private and public institutions have hindered what would otherwise be sound youth development policies,” Nwaneri explained.
In his speech, Ramaphosa extolled the the achievements made by government initiatives such as the youth Employment Tax Incentive (ETI), the Skills Development Levy (SDL), the National Skills Fund (NSF), the Youth Employment Service (YES) and the National Youth Services Programme.
Nwaneri said that these successes should be measured against the “devastating backdrop of 4.6 million unemployed youth in the country”.
Nkosinathi Mahlangu, head at Momentum Metropolitan on Youth Employment said on Thursday Sona 2024 fell short.
“The president looked deeply at the rear view mirror by reflecting on the last 30 years, and while he acknowledged a few gaps (such as the fact that our youth unemployment remains the highest it's ever been), there was little emphasis on how to overcome these gaps,” Mahlangu noted.
The Momentum head thought that the president made intangible and vague references to employment opportunities. He noted that there are major differences between job opportunities and actual jobs.
“I would have liked him (Ramaphosa) to give an indication of whether these job opportunities equated to permanent jobs, in which sectors, provinces and even gender split (knowing that women are historically more disadvantaged than men). He also did not clarify on what role the private sector could play and what role the government could play going forward.”
Ramaphosa said the government would not only be extending the R350 SRD grant, but improving it - suggesting the government was set to spend more on it.
Around nine million young people are recipients of the R350 grant, which was introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 as a temporary measure.
Mahlangu argued that extending and improving the grant may not be sustainable, “with such a small base of taxpayers already supporting such a large population.
“While he is adamant this will not create a grant-dependent society, we may very well be doing this, if we are not making severe strides in getting our youth employed and part of the taxpaying population,” he explained.
“It's important to be optimistic, but we also need to be realistic. Youth unemployment remains a massive challenge. The president says the youth inspire our country - but the question is, does our country inspire the youth?”