POLOKWANE – Young people in South Africa are not the ''lost generation'', as some would have it, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday.
“This country’s young people are far from being the lost generation; they live in a country with enormous opportunities, and government is helping them to take up these opportunities,” Ramaphosa said at the national Youth Day event at the Peter Mokaba Cricket Club in Polokwane in Limpopo.
Despite the hardships and daily struggles, many young people still believed they “have a place in the South African sun”, he said.
“Being able to reach your potential starts with education. Government is on a path to revitalise the economy at a time of great technological advances. Young people need tools for these advances. We are thus prioritising science, technology, arts, and mathematics in our education system,” he said.
Youth unemployment remained a "national crisis" and he called on the private sector to help young people find pathways into business. He reiterated that work experience should not be a prerequisite for those entering the job market.
South Africa celebrates Youth Day, and Youth Month, by paying tribute to the youth activists of the June 16, 1976 Soweto uprising against the compulsory teaching of Afrikaans in schools. The protests spread to other areas and many young people died in the subsequent clashes with apartheid-era police.
Ramaphosa said South Africa's youth had always been the “vanguard” of the struggle to defeat apartheid. The direct actions and “militancy” of the youth of 1976 contributed to ''liberation and ensured we could sit here today”, he said.
“They were brave and courageous, declaring they want to see the country free. The new generation of youth have taken up the struggle for economic freedom, access to land, and free education. The youth are our national conscience,” Ramaphosa said.
While campaigning all over the country before the May 8 general elections, he had the opportunity to speak to many young people expressing despondency over the lack of employment.
“These stories are a harsh reminder that the social and economic marginalisation of youth is a stain on our country’s conscience. Amid all this though, I also encountered voices of hope; young people determined to succeed against the odds, to go out into the world and carve a space for themselves... using their talents,” Ramaphosa said.
Ramaphosa also narrated some of the positive stories he had encountered, saying these were a reminder that “the flame that burned bright in the youth of 1976 has not been lost. It continues to burn. We as a nation have to turn it up brighter and brighter”.
Those accompanying Ramaphosa at the event included Deputy President David Mabuza, Sport, Arts, and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Minister for Women, Youth, and Persons with Disabilities Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, as well as Limpopo premier Stanley Mathabatha.