South Africa’s youth — people aged between 15 and 34 — account for 36% of the country’s population, according to Statistics South Africa. In addition, the country’s median age is 26.3. More than a third of the population are youth and most of them live in urban centres. Based on what has happened over the last few years, our youth are angry. If they count for such a significant portion of the population, why is their voice only heard when they protest?
Are the matriarchs and patriarchs not hearing these rumblings and have they not realised that the struggle has evolved? The youth want inclusion; an opportunity to define their destiny.
The older generation has always said that education is the key to economic emancipation. With education comes dignity that is obtained through employment. When the Fees Must Fall movement erupted in October 2015, the discontent was not just about the fees. It was the threat of being excluded and obtaining the key that would lead to employment — a seat at the economic table converting into an opportunity to provide for their families was the overall cry.
Politically, the country could be going the wrong way. Senior government officials are in their 50s, 60s and 70s with isolated cases of those in their 30s and 40s. The youth are not sure if this makes sense, because shouldn’t Parliament be representative of the population it is serving?
This isn’t necessarily the case but shouldn’t the conversations between legislators and constituents be relatable to ensure that policy is drafted and executed in line with the youth’s pressing needs?
Are the platforms that the youth spend most of their time on being used to understand them better and avoid the same mistakes happening again? This remains an elusive chase.
The youth have voted for parties they think will address issues which, in a nutshell, are summarised as jobs, jobs and more jobs. Nothing else matters for the youth right now. They want to exist in a country where, if they obtain an educational qualification today, they’re able to secure a job as soon as tomorrow.
There are significant economic gaps they are looking to fill through a job and they expect their elected MPs to deliver on their promise. But for the employment gap to be addressed (a situation that worsened during the last quarter of 2019), more of the younger generation need to be visible in the corridors of power. This will ensure that the solutions that are developed are addressing the unemployment agenda.
The youth are looking for change. History continues to weigh heavily on their potential to succeed. Political freedom has not resulted in economic freedom. The playing field has not been levelled and the realisation of some dreams are often related to the resources in hand to enable the fulfilment of that dream.
Handing over this responsibility to a pseudo-parent called the government has in a way helped to alleviate the imbalance. But the reality is that it has onlt addressed a small portion of a very big and worsening problem. Inequality continues to prevail.
The inequality breeds exclusion and the exclusion manifests itself in anger. Xenophobia, community eruptions and disruptions, crime and misplaced priorities become the order of the day. Yet, if change manifests that is inclusive, where your voice is heard, your dreams are explored, your passions pursued, and your life has purpose; then the youth question can be answered today. Such change is necessary to move the country forward in a progressive way.
James Maposa is co-founder and partner at WeAreValora; a brand strategy, creative design, content creation and experience design consultancy. These are his own views