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We dare not continue to postpone mounting an aggressive campaign to tackle the multiple challenges we face. Orthodox economic models are clearly inappropriate to address the unemployment crisis, writes Mamphela Ramphele.
A veritable forest fire in the form of
youth unemployment has set our country ablaze. The latest statistics show that
youth unemployment stands at 56%.
Nature has lessons for us about
dealing with fires. Many plants show adaptations for coping with fire: some
types of grass store most of their biomass underground, while some pine trees
can survive intense heat by shooting out new buds to reproduce themselves. This
is nature's way of surviving through regeneration.
We need to learn this same instinct to
survive this current man-made disaster in our labour market. Neglect and
corruption have conspired to undermine young people's futures.
The irony is that as we celebrate
Women's Month, many women are bearing the brunt of the destabilising impact of
the frustration and rage amongst young unemployed people across the country.
High levels and brutality of gender-based violence continue to mark us as the
worst performing country in the world.
Women, especially grandmothers, in
poor rural communities have become targets of their grandsons and their friends'
violent demands of a share of old-age pensions and child grants under their
care. We cannot effectively empower women while continuing to exclude young men
from productive activities in our society.
SABC news last week reported the
tragic events in the Lusikisiki district in the Eastern Cape where anger among
unemployed young men is increasingly directed at women. A significant number of
women are being labelled witches, some of whom have been killed brutally and
their homesteads burnt down. Those implicated in these crimes are unemployed
young men, many of whom are related to the affected women.
Women throughout history have tended
to bear the brunt of societal anxieties and insecurities. Relatively successful
or non-conformist women have often been labelled witches for daring to stand
out as resilient in the face of pressures that men buckle under. At the height
of the struggle for freedom in the 1980s, the persecution of such women led to
the establishment of a special village in Limpopo – a "witches' village"
to provide refuge for them.
Scientists have been increasingly
paying attention to lessons from nature. For example, there is growing
recognition of the value of enhancing intergenerational talents and regenerative
capacities to ensure stability and sustainability of ecosystems. The study of
tropical forests shows that older trees (older than 150 years) create openings
in their canopies to enable new growth to emerge and bend their trunks to
maximise the co-existence of multiple species of various ages.
Imagine the opportunities that would
open up if we were to adopt an ecosystem approach to socio-economic development
to leverage the diversity of talents, energy levels and wisdom across
generations and cultures! Our society's multiple crises: poverty, inequality,
unemployment, as well as climate change, heavy air pollution from burning
fossil fuel, could be better addressed by learning from nature to adopt an
Imagine how we could transform the
Eastern Cape's landscapes scarred by the migrant labour system, broken
families, denuded hills and dongas left behind by soil erosion, by promoting
ground up socio-economic restoration programs. Restoration of these landscapes
of rolling hills could be coupled with income-generating forms of production
through enriching pastures with trees, harvesting forest-based products and
growing cash crops beneath forest canopies. This ecosystem approach would
transform the land of low value for agricultural production into sustainably
managed landscapes where trees are flourishing and animal and birdlife thrive
and forests lost are restored.
Ethiopia is showing us the way. Last
week, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed led a reforestation campaign, the Green Legacy,
that resulted in 350 million trees being planted in 12 hours! The previous
world record in tree planting was held by India with 50 million trees in one
day. Ethiopia's Green Legacy complements its strong agricultural revival led by
women turning Ethiopia into a more food secure and prosperous country.
What stops us doing the same across
our country? We could leverage the huge energy and creativity of young people
who are currently excluded from socio-economic development efforts into engines
of development. The 31% of unemployed graduates among the larger pool could be
trained to become horticulturalists to lead land restoration, tree planting and
maintenance, food security and agro-processing initiatives across the country.
We have much more financial, technical
and scientific resources than Ethiopia. We dare not continue to postpone
mounting an aggressive campaign to tackle the multiple challenges we face.
Orthodox economic models are inappropriate to tackle our complex problems.
Foreign investment is not the binding constraint we have been made to believe
it to be. Utilising the resources we have more effectively to unleash the
talents and potential of all citizens, especially the significant segment of
our youthful population, would enlarge our resource base to create a more
Imagine if we were to harness youthful
creative energy in urban renewal and greening of all human settlements. Simply
employing the millions of young people in every geographic area to manage and
transform waste into wealth, would transform our towns, cities and villages.
The shame and tragedy of pollution of our rivers carrying the precious and
scarce water resources could be turned into opportunities for sustainable
employment in reforestation, efficient water and sanitation systems.
We have the science and technology in
our well-developed research community, especially concentrated in the Water
Research Council and the CSIR, to skill local professionals and unemployed
young people to become agents of proper management of water and sanitation
systems. Our government needs to more strategically utilise the science and
technological base it invests significant resources in to help guide
socio-economic development and effectively address complex social problems.
We can do no better than learn from
nature and the wisdom of ancient forests. Intergenerational conversations,
collaboration across gender and cultures would make ours a healthier ecosystem
with a better chance of promoting sustainable prosperity for all.
- Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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