One of the strategic priorities that we pursue in the implementation of our foreign policy is to ensure that, through bilateral and multilateral interactions, we protect and promote South African national interests and values.
As we commemorate the 41st anniversary of the June 16, 1976 student uprisings, it is important that government makes use of all available means, including working closely with our international partners, to progressively reverse the legacy of apartheid, particularly in the areas of skills development, job creation and poverty eradication.
Our skills development challenges must be placed within the broader continental context. Africa is predominantly a youthful continent.
It is estimated that over 40% of Africa’s working age population is between the ages of 15 and 24. This makes Africa the youngest continent in the world. Africa’s youth are its greatest asset.
Our National Development Plan (NDP) says government must place emphasis on capacitating the youth in the areas of research and development.
According to the NDP, research and development play an important role in helping middle-income countries to advance to high-income status.
In South Africa, the skills shortage phenomenon bears certain peculiarities, which is consistent with our apartheid past. Black people make up the largest percentage of the unskilled population.
The apartheid government tailored the Bantu Education system deliberately to achieve this outcome. We have, however, made significant inroads in the past 23 years of democracy to undermine the apartheid education legacy. According to the last General Household Survey released by Statistics SA in 2016, the percentage of people with some post-school education increased from 9.3% to 14.0%. At the same time, the percentage of people without any schooling decreased from 10.6% in 2002 to 4.9% in 2016.
According to the UN, global unemployment increased from 170 million in 2007 to nearly 202 million in 2012, of which about 75 million are young women and men. The UN says 470 million jobs are needed globally for new entrants to the labour market between 2016 and 2030.
It is clear that skills shortages and the resultant unemployment situation affect not only South Africa, but other economies as well. Developing economies need to work closely to address the challenge.
This is why South Africa uses its diplomatic ties to address our domestic challenges, in particular through signing agreements in education and training as well as skills development and research. The bilateral agreements that we have with countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Cuba, India, Russia, Azerbaijan and Sweden provide our youth with opportunities to acquire skills in areas such as medicine, statistics and nuclear science.
Those skills have become invaluable in the socio-economic development of our country. Within multilateral institutions such as Brics, South Africa also uses its membership to champion the need to train and skill our youth. At the last Brics summit, held in Goa, India, in October, the Brics leaders expressed their commitment to take steps to establish a network of lead labour research and training institutes, “so as to encourage capacity building, information exchange and sharing of best practices amongst Brics countries”.
Youth unemployment and poverty can breed instability.
President Jacob Zuma recognised this challenge when he told the last UN General Assembly that: “Global inequality and economic exclusion have become a serious threat to global peace and stability. Inclusive growth is thus a peace, security and prosperity imperative.”
In its 50-year vision document, Agenda 2063, the AU has identified seven aspirations, one of which is: “Ensuring well-educated citizens and a skills revolution underpinned by science, technology and innovation”. South Africa stands ready to lead in youth empowerment, working with our African and global partners.
* Mashabane is the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation.
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.