Newsmaker – Buti Manamela: Defusing a ticking time bomb

2015-01-18 17:00

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A new policy proposes awarding government tenders worth more than R10 million only to companies that have 50% youth representation.

Deputy Minister in the Presidency Buti Manamela unveiled the government’s draft National Youth Policy this week.

Navigating it through a public comment process and making it work will be the biggest challenge of his political career.

He must convince the private sector that reserving 50% of all posts for people aged between 18 and 35 will defuse a ticking time bomb that threatens the nation’s political, economic and social stability.

Limpopo-born Manamela believes government departments and parastatals should set and reach youth employment targets first before seeking the buy-in of the private sector.

City Press interviewed Manamela at a Midrand eatery a day after he launched the public consultation period for the draft policy.

It had been 24 hours of private sector backlash and social-media critics saying it was untenable to reserve jobs for unskilled young people.

But Manamela said this was a short-sighted argument.

“There’s an illusion in the private sector that a youth uprising would only target government,” Manamela said.

“If there’s an uprising, yes government is elected by the people and they expect solutions, but people are not blind to the fact that jobs are being lost in the interest of profits while executives are being paid exorbitant salaries.

“You won’t be immune to an uprising because your JSE-listed company is profitable. This youth policy is a wake-up call.”

Some 70% of SA’s unemployed people are aged between 18 and 35.

Manamela, who cut his political teeth in organisations like the Young Communist League, said only a radical policy could deal with the service delivery protests he believes are a direct result of youth unemployment.

“We have to create a legal obligation in order to compel private companies to play ball.

“But even better than that, state-owned companies have opportunities in terms of youth businesses and this is one area where we need to expand opportunities for the youth through skills development and internships. It’s in everyone’s interest.

“The review of the national procurement policy is a good thing. We need to intervene by ensuring [companies receiving government tenders] are going to be employing young people.

They will empower them by subcontracting youngsters and supporting businesses owned by young people,” said Manamela.

He said the reaction to the draft policy suggested that government wanted to “create job losses”.

“We all need to get to the table, engage and listen to each other... if the private sector doesn’t come to the party, we will not be able to resolve the youth question.”

He maintained that the policy was about “averting potential political turmoil”.

“We have seen a decline in the number of protests, but over the last 11 years, these have been pockets of instability.

“If you go into those communities, they will say the protests are about water, electricity and houses, but at the centre of most is the issue of the youth not having jobs,” said Manamela.

He echoed the views contained in the draft policy, which suggests most young people don’t trust politicians and their parties.

This, he said, was the reason South Africa’s “born frees” didn’t vote in numbers during last year’s national elections.

He said parties could turn the tide by next year’s municipal elections if they put aside their “bling” election campaigns and showed the youth why it was important to vote.

“We must make young people understand that voting is a right that was denied in the past. It empowers you to change the conditions in your community.

“Young people have to see the value of why they need to vote. If they can see that the government system is structured in such a way that it benefits everyone and doesn’t take us back as a country, they will participate.

We cannot forever say: ‘Do it for Mandela’ or ‘Do it for Chris Hani’. You can’t invoke those names every time you want to get young people to vote.

“One of the big problems is that there are weaknesses at national government, but the perception is that the situation is actually worse when it comes to local administration.”

Manamela said he’d like to see young people change their attitudes to some jobs.

“Many young people don’t want certain jobs because there’s the perception that they are for ‘foreign people’. When I visit communities, this is what I hear. That needs to change. They need to accept all kinds of jobs to develop skills because an idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” said Manamela.

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