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What is the South Africa of tomorrow our youth will inherit?

A schoolboy covers his face at a Youth Day commemoration government event on June 16, 2017. | REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

A schoolboy covers his face at a Youth Day commemoration government event on June 16, 2017. | REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Published Jul 19, 2022

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The low registration turnout of youth for the national elections of 2019 is a sad indictment of how tomorrow’s leaders and tax contributors perceive their future, Masibongwe Sihlahla writes.

Masibongwe Sihlahla

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Tomorrow cannot be the same as it is today, and today cannot be the same as it was yesterday. If we are not moving forward, we risk our future.

The low registration turnout of youth for the national elections of 2019 is a sad indictment of how tomorrow’s leaders and tax contributors perceive their future.

While for many commentators this might suggest the youth have little interest in politics, the reality is that many of us are abstaining from casting our votes as a form of protest. This in no way undermines what our forefathers and mothers struggled for – the right to vote – but rather, our way of making the authorities realise that no real alternative exists for us. We are seriously disillusioned.

The danger of this approach is that in not voting, those who are doing all the damage to our democracy remain in power and instead of moving on and upwards, we go nowhere.

It is a double-edged sword, and a vicious cycle doomed to rinse and repeat, unless there is a radical change in how the boxes are ticked and who leads us.

For instance, few of government’s policies have translated into realistic or tangible benefits for the people. For example, research shows that for every 3% penetration of Broadband in a country, there is a corresponding increase of 1% in GDP. The South African Government has interpreted this by making Broadband accessible to all schoolgoing youth. But what happens after the school day ends? How do our youth access the Internet when they get home?

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If you go to any school fence in the evening or weekends, there are kids gathered outside to access the school’s wi-fi – in many instances to complete their educational assignments. Government has, in effect, limited the youth’s access to digital.

Another issue is unemployment and the lack of job prospects. South Africa is renowned for having the largest number of youth unemployed in the world – nearly 50%.

Our future is only as good as the education we provide today. But more teachers cannot be appointed as corruption aside, there is simply no money to pay for those posts.

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Teaching, once a proud vocation, has become menial labour lacking the respect and kudos it once had. Our entire education system needs to be reinvigorated, to give us the best shot at forging our best future. We want to work. We do not want handouts; we want a hand-up. We want to be inspired to be the best versions of ourselves we can be.

Our economy cannot grow because we are in freefall – state capture and corruption have sent foreign direct investment running for the hills, and our tax baseline is forever shrinking. This state is further compounded by job shedding because of the erosion of state-owned enterprises, most notably Eskom, the inability of which to keep the energy supply going is putting us all back into the dark ages.

Another diminishing dream is a well-run and equipped primary healthcare system with an increase in the number of facilities to service our growing population to avoid the existing all-night queues and the ever-growing list of broken or stolen medical equipment.

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From the promise of prosperity at the dawn of our democracy, we have become a welfare state, with at least 16 million citizens dependent on a meagre government grant to survive. What kind of future are we laying out for our youth?

The funds that flowed into the CR17 and CR19 campaigns are an embarrassment of riches when seen in contrast to the level of poverty now pervasive across our country. Instead of job creation, there has been economic stagnation with the rich getting ever richer whilst the poor get poorer still.

South Africa still ‘enjoys’ the No 1 status as the most unequal society in the world. Our youth see this imbalance as a harbinger of what the future holds for them without the necessary strength, integrity, and moral leadership to lead them forward.

Government pays lip service to entrepreneurship too.

The NYDA needs to make more money available, so that hand in hand with SEDA they can help us not only start businesses but sustain them.

We have the ingenuity and the will to want to make more of our lives. We just need the skills, access to finance, and the mentorship and support of those who came before us to show us the way.

There are many things that need change in South Africa to affect a better future for our youth, the most pressing being that of leadership, something a youth driven social democratic movement could solve.

Hand in hand with this and in our favour is that despite everything, hope still abounds in our youth that tomorrow will be better than today or yesterday. It is a currency that should not be squandered. It is a lesson that today’s leaders should take cognisance of …before it is too late and there are no more tomorrows for us to inherit.

** Masibongwe Sihlahla is an independent writer.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media or IOL.

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