By Dalsy Manganyi
This year marks 45 years since the youth of Soweto marched against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in black schools. Their resilient spirit and common purpose achieved what, many at the time, underestimated and thought to be impossible – young people standing up against the tyranny of an oppressive state. They made history.
It is that history of youthful heroism which we all know and celebrate today. Or rather, I should qualify that by noting that is commemorated by at least 60% of Generation Z youth (those born between 1997-2015) who somewhat know the history of June 16.
That is according to the 2019/20 SA Social Attitudes Survey that was cited by the president in his most recent weekly newsletter to the nation. But that is beside the point I am making here, which is, that the young of today face a different set of challenges when compared to their 1976 counterparts.
The challenges range from the constant bouts of racism within our so-called multi-racial schools which continue to police black hair and identities, to fighting for entry and funding in the higher education system, followed by unprecedented levels of unemployment and poverty etc.
It may be true, that some of these challenges have to do with the legacy of our apartheid past. However, a closer introspection leads me to question if sufficient progress has been made to advance the interests of young people in the last 27 years under a democratic government.
The president’s newsletter, released just two days before the Youth Day celebration, lamented his disappointment that the youth of post-1994 are losing awareness of the history of June 16.
While the awareness of our history is important, however, the challenges of the present moment command a different focus about the youth from everyone. The unemployment rate amongst the youth today is recorded at 46%. This increases to over 70% when including those who have given up on the job search.
In an article from the SA Labour Bulletin, Wits sociology lecturer, Dr Thabang Sefalafala, describes the situation of the unemployed people as that of those who “are excluded from economic participation in their communities and seen as bomahlalela (reprobates) – people lacking an important aspect of what it means to be a person of value in the world today”.
Sadly, we now have an increasing number of young people becoming bomahlalela.
Stats SA’s most recent Quarterly Labour Force Survey shows that 44% of the country’s youth, between the ages of 15 and 34, are idle. They are neither employed nor enrolled within any institutions of higher learning or vocational training. This has major social, economic, and political consequences for our democracy.
The disengaged youth face an uncertain future and is at risk of becoming the next cohort of disheartened job seekers who are likely to suffer from mental health issues or worse fall into the trap of substance abuse as well as crime. All these ills add no value to their wellbeing and that of society at large.
Our government preaches youth empowerment but fails to practice it. For instance, public procurement legislation makes it mandatory that at least 30% of all government contracts should benefit youth, women-owned businesses, and persons with disabilities.
However, a handful of government departments and agencies seldom meet this target. Recently we saw some government departments go as far as outsourcing doctors and engineers outside of the country when we have scores of unemployed graduates. So, the well-intentioned pieces of legislation do not translate into real and positive changes in the lives of the youth.
With each year that passes, the youth of post-1994 is told to take inspiration from the youth of 1976 whose self-drive made things change for them. Hardly a day goes by, when one scrolls through any social media platforms or passes through city or township streets, without seeing young people actively hustling for funding, business contracts and job opportunities. This shows that self-drive and the hunger for opportunity, which were present in the class of 1976, are not lost among young people today.
As the Inkatha Freedom Party Youth Brigade (IFPYB) we believe that unlocking youth potential can be achieved through a combination of collective and self-help solutions.
That includes capacitating young citizens with appropriate skills for them to be self-reliant and innovative in the absence of formal employment. We can strengthen our enterprise development and financing institutions by ensuring that their funding programmes reach young entrepreneurs, especially those from disadvantaged communities and backgrounds.
Nepotism and other forms of corruption have made it almost impossible for hardworking young entrepreneurs to fairly access and compete for such opportunities. These unfair practices are common in both public and private sectors, and the youth suffers because of it.
The exclusion must stop.
The failures of big business, including the state-owned enterprises, to create adequate jobs and alleviate poverty should be a lesson that young entrepreneurs are the future sources of wealth and employment-creation in our country. As such, they need the support of ordinary citizens, the state and private sector players for them to thrive.
* Dalsy Manganyi is the chairperson of the IFP Youth Brigade in Gauteng.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.