By Phumla Williams
Former president Nelson Mandela once declared that the aim of government was “not to attend to the youth as if you were some separate and special species from outer space”.
Addressing a gathering commemorating the June 16, 1976, Soweto Uprising, in 1994, just a few months after South Africa attained freedom and democracy, Madiba said: “Our central approach is to ensure that young people are fully integrated into the social, economic and political life of society”.
Against this historic background, the theme for this year’s 46th anniversary of the National Youth Day and Youth Month, “Promoting sustainable livelihood and resilience of young people for a better tomorrow”, galvanises youth to embrace socio-economic opportunities presented by the government.
It is also a rallying call for youth to determine their future. Young people remain key to rebuilding and transforming our economy. They should form part of the fight to reduce poverty, inequality and unemployment.
Since most of youth are independent thinkers, who are blessed with an endless enthusiasm to improve their lives, unlocking their full potential can contribute immensely to building an inclusive economy, creating employment, and transforming our society.
Although many youth possess the entrepreneurial acumen and requisite skills to start their own businesses, some do not necessarily know where to start or how to obtain resources, assistance, training or funding. Over the years, government has been providing advice and allocating resources to support youth to flourish, particularly in starting their own businesses.
The Presidential Employment Stimulus programme continues to play a crucial role in supporting the implementation of the country’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan. Since its launch in October 2020, its first two phases have supported more than 850 000 job-intensive projects.
More than 300 000 of these opportunities came from placing young people as education assistants in schools across the country, through the Basic Education Employment Initiative. As part of the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention, a national Pathway Management Network has been established to provide active support to work-seekers and help unemployed young people to navigate their way into the economy.
The National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) continues to support job creation initiatives and youth-owned enterprises. The Youth Micro Enterprise Relief Fund supported micro youth-owned enterprises with grant funding during the height of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. The fund was developed and implemented to keep youth-owned enterprises alive to protect jobs.
Through the NYDA, the Department of Small Business Development provides opportunities for young South Africans, with an aptitude for business and entrepreneurship. Young people who received financial support from government to train in technical skills – such as plumbers, electricians, welders, boilermakers, glazers and carpenters – are encouraged to start their independent businesses once qualified.
Youth interested in becoming artisans can obtain such technical skills at Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges. The NYDA Grant Programme has provided youth-owned enterprises, in the township and the rural economy, with grant funding to grow their businesses. Government has further opened employment opportunities through the Expanded Public Works Programme, Community Works Programme, and the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator.
The Tshepo One Million Programme targets a million young people with skills training, job placement and entrepreneurship development. While the Youth Employment Service aims to create more than one million paid internships for mainly young black South Africans, the National Youth Service allows young people to participate in the upliftment of their communities.
While youth unemployment in South Africa remains high, the unemployment figures released recently by Statistics South Africa provided a glimmer of hope by showing a drop from 35.3% in the fourth quarter of 2021, to 34.5% in the first quarter of 2022. They affirm the success of the country’s roadmap to fast-track urgent structural reforms, expand employment programmes, facilitate large-scale infrastructure projects, and enhance regional and continental trade.
The Bill of Rights, enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, of 1996, obligates government to uphold the well-being of children by stating that “every child has the right to basic nutrition, shelter, health care and social services, as well as the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation”.
Therefore, youth should support sectors of society, which partner with government to create safer communities and protect victims of abuse, including children. Like the youth of 1976, who stood defiantly against an unjust system and their actions helped to change the course of our nation’s history, the youth of today should intensify the fight against poverty, gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, and mental health problems.
Eradicating the scourge of GBVF requires the collective efforts of all sectors of our society. We must make it our duty to report all cases of rape, sexual assault, or any form of violence, to a local police station or call the toll-free Crime Stop number on 086 00 10111 or 0800 428 428.
As we continue to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, young people should step forward and get vaccinated. They can also become agents of change in their communities, by helping the elderly to get vaccinated. Vaccinated people are better protected against severe illness, hospitalisation and death.
Youth can also help the elderly in their communities to receive medical care for communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis. As Madiba once proclaimed: “The youth of today are leaders of tomorrow,” as they have a right to be part of economic activities, especially after completing their studies, because education is the critical component of an informed nation that strives to achieve indomitable success.
* Phumla Williams is the director-general of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)