About 350 young people from across the country descended on Parliament to take part in a Youth Summit. IN HONOUR OF NELSON MANDELA AND ALBERTINA SISULU. Pic Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

CAPE TOWN - South African Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom on Tuesday threw his weight behind calls for sanitary pads to be VAT-exempt.

Hanekom was speaking during a visit by hundreds of pupils from schools across the country to Parliament for a youth summit.

"There is a panel at the moment which is making recommendations on which items should be VAT-exempt and there is a very strong submission that sanitary towels should be VAT exempted. Sanitary towels should be VAT exempted, I support that," he said while answering questions from learners.

"I think though there is a strong case for free sanitary towels to be made available, especially to girls at school."

The youth summit was organised by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in partnership with the department of tourism under the theme “A Mandela in Every Generation”.

The summit created a unique opportunity for children and youth to have their voices heard on matters that affect them. It also provided a platform for children to engage representatives from different institutions including business, political leaders and other leaders from society.

Hanekom said the government should start seeing sanitary towels as a basic human right.

“And I think that we should move in that direction, we should start seeing it as not something that people buy but something that is a right in the same way education is a right,” he said, adding the fact that poor learners could not afford sanitary towels affected the ability of girls to learn.

He added that even though the government has managed to build many new schools in recent years, there were still many challenges such as modernising the education system by using technology to enhance learning that needed to be dealt with and more especially in the rural areas.

“Connectivity in rural schools, I think somebody said here, we want internet in our school and I think it is a big challenge and it’s more than that, we want decent sanitation facilities at our schools. We do have many schools that have been built and one of the things that have happened in our country is that we have almost every young person that is of schoolgoing age is going to school which was not the case before 1994.”

Responding to a question posed by a learner who asked the minister what was he doing to encourage people to invest in the tourism sector, as, according to the learner, tourism was not taken seriously in South Africa.

Hanekom said President Cyril Ramaphosa was taking tourism very seriously because “he is taking our economic challenges very seriously”.

“Tourism is one economic sector that can help us get out of the low growth that we are experiencing currently. It is also a sector of the economy that creates a lot of jobs, in other words, it’s an employment intensive sector, unlike other sectors that are also important in the economy but may not translate into the same number of jobs," he said.

He further encouraged young people and South Africans to take tourism “more seriously yourselves, you must realise that if we have more tourists coming to South Africa and it is those more tourists that help create the jobs, so we have got to have more tourists coming to South Africa”.

African News Agency (ANA)