Gugu Ndima. National Spokesperson Young Communist League of SA

The dust settles at Mandela informal settlement after a mob of residents beat a 20-year-old man to a pulp. His crime was that he stole a cellphone.

He had just been released from Boksburg prison after serving six months. Now he spends his days smoking nyaope and has become an outcast in the community.

This is just one example of the stark reality facing millions of young people in this country as they dodge the poverty bullet – most of them trapped in socio-economic conditions not of their own creation but an involuntary inheritance from their predecessors.

According to statistics, a large segment of the population is made up of young people.

This indicates that the youth are not a secluded part of society but form an integral part of the population, thus influencing the winds of change in the economy and in politics.

We should commend the government on the efforts consistently made to curb the ramifications of poverty and unemployment among the youth.

However, we ought to ask ourselves if the young are merely a welfare category and whether we are properly channelling the youth to become future leaders and patriotic citizens of SA.

The government has made vast interventions to ensure that the youth partake in the broader stream of society and the economy.

The National Youth Policy draft document (2008-2013) states: “Government, in partnership with different roleplayers, must ensure that all young people access the opportunities that enable them to grow, develop and prosper as fully engaged, responsive and productive citizens. At the same time, all these roleplayers must support young people who, by virtue of their vulnerability and other constraints, find themselves relegated to the margins of society and are unable to benefit from the policy dispensations offered by our democracy”.

Fast forward to 2012 - the National Youth Development Agency (Nyda) has an Integrated Youth Development Strategy Plan. This is a clear indication that the youth is to be taken seriously by the government.

However, such efforts are undermined by the inability of other sectors to synchronise overall government plans with their key strategies.

The private sector and education sector are key areas of development for young people and the nation in general.

There is a problem of synergising the education disseminated to many young people through institutions of higher learning and the skills demanded by the economy.

The private sector still sees young people as potentially desperate working machines in its quest to maximise profits, which is why the bulk of casual workers or workers subjected to labour broking are young people.

Institutions of higher learning, on the other hand, do not prepare young people for the economy.

Hence we see a significant percentage of unemployed graduates with qualifications they can’t use to start careers.

This disjuncture undermines the nation’s ability to absorb young people into the mainstream of the economy and further institutionalises the mindset that young people should aspire to be mere workers and not advocates of transformation in the economy.

The youth should be proactive agents in policy-making, be part of key decision-making processes and instruments of transformation within the broader economy.

The skills debate in SA is fast washing away as more young people are equipping themselves with education.

We should reassess training and development in their current state and find ways to better use resources to equip the youth for the economy and life generally.

The approach to youth development can’t be undertaken in such a manner that they are merely seen as a perpetual crisis and the only way to keep them at bay is through employment.

Young people today are pioneers of their own destiny.

The people who register companies and close corporations, have online businesses and are active in the informal market are largely the youth.

This is a clear indication that young people no longer wait for opportunities but are thirsty for greater and better things within the broader mainstream of the economy.

The question is, is there enough support and a clear vision for the youth of this country?

This is a pertinent question which should be answered by any leader claiming to be representing the youth.

Have we thoroughly placed the agenda of young people within the broader vision of the country, or have we defaulted youth matters to mere social ills?

The government has undoubtedly made visible strides by enacting institutions such as the Nyda as lobby instruments for young people in this country.

However, their effectiveness will be measured only by those they claim to represent.

Youth development, though, isn’t the government’s exclusive responsibility but a responsibility for all, including the private sector.

Young people should be able to trust their representatives in politics, civil society and business to speak in unison to strengthen their voice and visibility.

We should also caution ourselves against reducing youth matters to Vanity Fair-type events that only happen or take centre stage in June.

Young people are restless by nature and will not wait for permission to take to the streets to demand a change in their conditions.

n Ndima is the media and communications officer, Gauteng office of the Chief Whip.