The bleak reality of youth unemployment in post-apartheid SA

According to Stats SA, the unemployment rate is high for both youth and adults; however, among young people aged 15-34, it was 38.2%. Picture: Reuters/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

According to Stats SA, the unemployment rate is high for both youth and adults; however, among young people aged 15-34, it was 38.2%. Picture: Reuters/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Apr 20, 2023


By Khensani Ntlemo

The transition from apartheid to democracy 29 years ago represented the promise of a new start for many black South Africans.

One of many promises was equality for all. This meant that black people who were segregated, discriminated against and oppressed for decades were now moving into the direction of political freedom, financial success, service delivery, access to public goods and human dignity. Almost three decades down the line, the South African unemployment rate is sitting at 32,7%, and about 30.4 million people are living below the poverty line.

Therefore, a question one could ask is, what happened to the promises that the African National Congress made? Was it all propaganda?

The ANC is still led by people born and raised in the apartheid era, so the party lacks new and fresh ideas. It has been leading South Africa astray. The drastic increase of youth unemployment every year is evidence enough that the country is in a dark alley.

South Africa currently suffers a 61% youth unemployment rate, which is far higher than it was during the apartheid era (29. 92%). Some people would argue that this is due to the rural-urban migration and the increasing population in the country compared to the apartheid era. Nevertheless, it is apparent that the government has dismally failed to create jobs and provide black South Africans with the financial freedom that was promised by the ANC when it took power in 1994.

Since 1994, various initiatives to reduce the rate of youth unemployment in South Africa have been implemented, but most were not effective. For example, former president Jacob Zuma adopted a new youth policy in 2015. It promised that all government departments would prioritise programmes that are critical to youth development. There is hardly any evidence that the national youth policy and the ones that came after, such as “democracy development”, achieved anything.

The youth are facing many barriers to employment. “The challenge for unemployed youth is not only one of skills. There are many graduates, who have completed university degrees, who are still unemployed,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Youth Day celebrations at Orlando Stadium in Soweto on June 16, 2018. He further called on both public and private companies to scrap the experience requirement.

However, his call was not effective as many companies still require two to five years’ experience for entry-level jobs.

Initiatives such as the YES program and the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention (PYEI) only offer the youth 12 months of internships and temporary work. This is another issue that the youth are confronted with, as 8 out of 10 interns do not get permanently employed after the programmes. Therefore, they must start looking for other jobs which, in most cases, 5 out of 8 do not get them.

As mentioned, the experience requirement is not the only employment barrier that the youth is facing. Ramaphosa’s focus must not be narrow.

Firstly, the quality of education that is provided from primary to tertiary is a major down slope to the employability criteria. The government must invest in educational programs and teachings that cater for coding, technology, engineering, IT as we are moving towards the world of Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

The Covid-19 pandemic also took a toll on South Africans, especially in the work industry. Three million people lost their jobs during lockdown, which drastically increased the number of unemployed youths. Subsequent to this, Ramaphosa’s administration has not made an adequate effort to help the country to recover from the pandemic. Therefore, many people remain unemployed.

In addition to the baneful effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, South Africa is currently confronted by an energy crisis ‘load shedding’. Consequently, many private businesses had to let go of their employees, and some closed down. This is another increase in the rate of youth unemployment and an ongoing downstream to poverty as businesses cannot function properly without electricity. As Ramaphosa said, he is not obligated to provide South Africans with electricity.

In essence, South Africans are on their own. Democracy is just a fancy non-functional word used to describe South Africa.

* Khensani Ntlemo is studying Master’s in Industrial Sociology at the University of Johannesburg and is an administrative officer at the Centre for Africa-China Studies.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL.