By Tswelopele Makoe
AT THE end of April, the Department of Basic Education announced the disappearance of more than 100 000 learners from its system. As of recently, our nation has been riddled with economic hardships. From power outages to rising fuel prices, the cost of living has become insufferable.
In our deeply stratified nation, many already struggle to keep up with the horrendous cost of living. The hardships that have befallen as of late have riddled survivability for many, making it near impossible.
The Department of Basic Education has insisted that the drop in the student quantity is a combination of several factors. Although scores of learners have evidently dropped out of their schooling system, the department has attributed this decline in students’ withdrawal to migration and population movement.
It is particularly alarming that the state of the nation has gravely affected the education of young people. This is eerily reminiscent of our nation at the height of apartheid, where innumerable young black people lived below the poverty line, forced to work back-breaking jobs in arduous conditions and remote regions.
Almost 30 years after the liberation of South Africa, scores of people are still struggling to survive. The fact that so many young people have deflected from their academic trajectories is not only chillingly worrisome, but speaks to the disastrous state that our nation is in. If so many young people have turned their backs on their educational opportunities and the actualisation of a better future, their present must be a truly dire circumstance.
Modern-day citizens are increasingly vulnerable. Low-income homes, especially those with large families, are particularly susceptible to the hardships that come with economic strain. The rising costs of living have meant that many cannot afford basic needs such as food and housing.
Although many other citizens live alone and do not often encounter exorbitant unplanned costs, the higher cost of living intrinsically affects everybody, from the upper to the lower class. Working citizens will struggle to afford subsequent living costs such as access to health care, transportation, electricity, and school fees. Additionally, many households will be unable to pay their debts, maintain their savings and emergency funds.
Rising inflation rates mean less purchasing power for citizens, as their ability to pay for goods is inhibited. The price of goods and services continues to climb, whilst there is no increase in people’s income. As of March, our national inflation rate stood at 7.1%.
The economic crisis is only compounded by the national power crisis and will indefinitely affect the quality of living for many. As winter edges nearer, scores of citizens will inevitably be in jeopardy. Cold nights have already ensued, resulting in increased costs to maintain adequate heating. Others have turned to renewable power sources, such as solar power, in an attempt to evade the disruptions that come with power outages.
The rigorous change in season has resulted in an increased predisposition to sickness and infections. Agriculture will indefinitely be affected, and many who grow their own food, will be vulnerable to malnourishment and starvation.
The elevation of inflation ultimately culminates in negative economic consequences. In the long term, the destabilisation of our economic climate will impact individuals’ future returns on investments as well as the future value of their assets. Furthermore, it can discourage international investment opportunities that are crucial to our country’s economic growth and development.
Our businesses, small and large-scale, will inevitably all be affected. Not only will the drop in consumerism affect the survivability of businesses everywhere, but also have a negative ripple effect on numerous employees in the goods and service industry.
Facing the risk of starvation, ailing health, and displacement are tempestuous reasons to abort one’s academic journey in order to earn an income. This is especially evident for young people who come from impoverished backgrounds or come from single-parent homes. According to Health-E News, 40% of mothers in South Africa are single parents. Additionally, women earn approximately 28% less than men. As a result, women are more likely to fall in the informal sector or do unpaid work. The Borgen Project refers to the disproportionate impact of poverty on women as the “feminisation of poverty”.
According to Stats SA, the national unemployment rate stands at 32.7% and will likely be aggravated by the rising cost of living. This means that many who drop out of their studies with the hopes to uptake employment will likely be confined to the informal economy, working low productivity jobs, or working multiple jobs, in order to make ends meet.
In today’s economic climate, multiple streams of income are pertinent. Side hustles have become increasingly popular, especially amongst the younger generations. Side hustles refer to the undertaking of smaller income opportunities in addition to one’s main employment source. It is one of the most common strategies being utilised by South Africans in order to help increase their current economic power and positively transform their financial situation.
Examples of side hustles may be opening a new business, selling products as a distributor, or earning an income through social media practices. Many side hustles become lucrative enough to become one’s main source of income. They have the potential to expand one’s professional skill set and capabilities. There are countless creative and innovative ways to create an income in the modern technological era. This will also facilitate the development of inventive and imaginative citizenry.
Single-income households are ultimately more likely to face financial strain than two-parent households. As a result, children from these households are more prone to begin working from an earlier age. Ultimately, financial hardships do not solely affect the heads of households but all those that live in it.
The future repercussions of financial strain on individuals are physical and mental health debilitation. This may be increased by a lack of education, which not only limits one’s future prospects, but creates a predisposition to criminal activity, incarceration, drug abuse and homelessness.
Ultimately, education is pertinent. It ensures that our citizens are empowered and discerning. It is pertinent to the development of a nation and its people. In the broader sense, it results in the diminishing of poverty, crime, and poor mental health. In the long term, education ensures a participative and developmentally focused society. It ensures that we, as a society, are continuously progressing. It is crucial to the personal, professional, and global development of the nation.
The economic crisis of South Africa is going to impact the health, financial security, social security, educational prospects, employment prospects, and overall standards of living of every citizen in the nation. In the long term, this could lead to increased protests, increased crime rates, and possibly, civil conflict. The onus is on us to ensure that our survivability is not compromised much more than it already is.
We need to ensure that we make smart financial decisions and compound it with well-thought resource conservation tactics. Although we have a long way to go in alleviating the economic crisis, we can prepare to combat it, to manage our households efficiently, to educate ourselves about the resources and services that are readily available to us, and to ensure that our young generation’s futures are not crippled by the circumstances of our present.
*Tswelopele Makoe is MA (Ethics) Student in the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice at UWC. She is also a gender activist.