WILL a projected “bulge” in the number of youths, coupled with the high rate of unemployment, spell anarchy or prosperity for SA?

This was the question posed to audiences in Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town during a video conference held at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in the city on Wednesday.

The dialogue examined ways to capacitate the economy to absorb youngsters.

Dr Monde Makiwane, the council’s chief research specialist in human and social development, produced a spreadsheet that put the estimate of unemployed youths aged between 15 and 24 in 2010 at more than 10 million.

The research also found that nearly 59 percent of those aged between 15 and 19, and 50.2 percent of citizens between 20 and 24, still lived with their parents.

The most telling statistics pointed to a possible overpopulation of youngsters in the next few decades.

“In 1960, people did not grow very old because of what was going on at that time,” Makiwane said, referring to apartheid. “But we see more people in age groups where they are able to reproduce.”

Using figures from a UN research, Makiwane said SA could experience a “youth bulge” by 2050.

An initiative like the youth wage subsidy was supposed to have been experimented with a long time ago, and politicising it may divert organisations from its purpose, said Dr Miriam Altman of the National Planning Commission.

“The subsidy might work, but it will not be the only answer. We need to get to communities, have social mobilisation and find a way to get people to connect,” she said.

Whereas in Asia skilled labour enabled economies to boom during a “youth bulge”, SA might not be fortunate enough to follow suit.

It is also expected that the “bulge” will be experienced over a substantial period of time, and that the country’s troubled history makes the resultant outcomes even more unpredictable.

Makiwane believes other African countries might experience this phenomenon as well, among the last to do so in the world.

“It is important how South Africa will handle it. If we prepare, we could benefit,” he said.