Guest Column

OPINION: Young people should be at the forefront of SA's growth, not on the periphery

2020-03-09 12:30
Young people are the key to unlocking SA's potential, says the writer. (iStock, Gallo Images)

Young people are the key to unlocking SA's potential, says the writer. (iStock, Gallo Images)

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Any economic system (communalism, capitalism, socialism and communism) is meaningless without the contributions of young people, because the population of many modern states largely consists of young people, writes Thlologelo Collen Malatji

The ANC's rallying call for us to Grow South Africa Together is one that says inclusive growth and prosperity for our nation depends on inclusive participation in this endeavour.

Growing South Africa together means black and white together; men and women together; rich and poor together; urban and rural together; skilled and unskilled together; able-bodied and people with disability together; public and private sector together; domestic investor and international investor together.

However, none of these partnerships are likely to produce the South Africa envisioned in Vision 2030, if we don't take a deliberate stand on the need for different generations of our population to work together.

Everything we know about how young people constitute the majority in our society; how young people are most affected by unemployment; how more than 8 000 girls under the age of 14 gave birth to babies in 2019; and how more than 250 000 young women between the ages of 15 and their early 20s gave birth during the same year - everything we know about the victimisation of young women and girls tells us this is where our focus should be.

Equally, everything we know about how young people who are given the opportunity to succeed in life embraces these opportunities, tells us where we should be concentrating if we are to grow South Africa.

From our sports fields to our factories, banks and farms, and from the Square Kilometre Array to our Air Force, the talents and energy of young people are reshaping our country day by day.

It is therefore necessary for us to confront the reality that while many in our nation say youth are the future, we don’t see much belief in young people themselves.

Young South Africans are often spoken about rather than spoken to.

This is a phenomenon that affects our political organisations, the administration, the corporate sector and vast parts of even our progressive social sector.

Yet, there are too many youth manifestos, strategies, frameworks and policies that are presented to youth for input rather than for origination.

This requires attention but more pressingly, it requires action.

It means listening to youth, trusting their instincts and inclinations and buying into their vision of a growing South Africa and allowing the passing of the baton from the generations that brought us freedom to the generation that will leverage this freedom to deliver the non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa we want.

Young people can draw a glimmer of hope from the President’s explicit prioritisation of and respect for the needs and role of young people in our society.

With his recent and second post-election State of the Nation Address, President Ramaphosa presented the nation with a thought-provoking Economic Manifesto which cut through the polemical "isms" that arise in debates about what the country’s economic orientation and programme of action should be.

For some in our nation, the President is assuming a "neo-liberal" approach which solemnly focuses on economic growth through less state intervention in the economy.

The debate of the "isms" lacks foresight because it obscures the prevailing material conditions of many South Africans, especially young people – in fact, mostly young people.

Any economic system (communalism, capitalism, socialism and communism) is meaningless without the contributions of young people, because the population of many modern states largely consists of young people.

This alone means that, in order for any economic system to surpass any reforms and or revolutions it needs to be invented, innovated, socialised and practised by young people.

An economic system that restricts the role of young people in its building blocks leads to unemployment, inequality, poverty and crime. When young people are not actively participating in the economic activities, chaos becomes the order of the day!

These assertions are well vindicated by Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better where they argue that in nations with high inequality rates most young people often resort to crime.

In our own case, the role of young people remains restricted or marginalised in our blueprints for economic growth.

This is as result of the fact that the conceptualisation of economic growth in our country still does not create meaningful wealth and access to capital for many young people.

One of the main reasons for such realities is that curriculum in basic education does not train young people to be captains of the industry and does not equip them with skills to participate in the economy in the post-matric period when they choose not to be in formal higher education institutions.

For this reason we must have institutions of high learning like the University of Science that is to be built in Ekurhuleni to broaden access and skills development.

Young people are not concerned with the “isms” but they are concerned with the economy, in line with James Carville’s 1992 eye-opener that said: “It’s the economy, stupid!”.

At a time when the President and government are confronted yet again with the spectre of cutting back government spending - which is a major catalyst for private sector involvement in our economy, we have to ask how we can exercise fiscal discipline without undermining meaningful growth and access to capital for the demographic majority in our country - young people.

Limiting opportunities for young people means limiting our future.  

Some will think that young people need money from the state, but the concept of capital does not necessarily mean money.

The concept embraces the circulation of commodities in their most initial point (land), the production of such commodities (labour) the manner in which commodities are placed in the market (exchange and user value and their flow thereafter (market utility and trade).

This simply means that, young people must be in control of the land, labour, markets and trade!

Therefore when austerity looms, such factors must be taken into cognisance and we must prioritise the extent to which young people will benefit.

The need for young people to participate in the economy must not happen through linear mechanisms which ignores the gender struggle. Our design of a better future must mainstream gender equality.

This means young black women must be prioritised when policies are put in place to enable young people to participate in the economy; and it means that as a nation we should not be able to sleep at night while young black women do not own the land or participate in commercial farming, mining, textile industry to mention but a few.

Young people must no longer just benefit from economic opportunities. We must be let loose and be empowered to design and realise these opportunities ourselves.

Young South Africans - across all demographic designations - must be given and must be trusted with their radical space and voice.

Youth must be at the forefront of their own liberation, because we understand our struggles and we value our potential more than anyone else. 

Amid all the numbers that are thrown around about economic indicators, crime trends, public perception surveys, we must pay the greatest attention to the numbers 18 and 35.

It cannot be condoned that those who are above 35 years of age want to speak for the youth at whatever front.

Young people in this country are capable and should not be censored. 

The experience, exposure, institutional memory and contribution to our society beyond 35 is not to be discarded or disrespected; it is to be refreshed by the new generation of capable, talented, passionate and socially active young patriots who are tired of being spectators or sitting on the bench alongside the field of play.

It’s time you passed the ball to us.

- Thlologelo Collen Malatji is the former COSAS president, Ekurhuleni ANCYL convener and Member of Parliament 

Read more on:    cyril rama­phosa  |  economic activity  |  women in business  |  youth
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