As June 16 approaches, tell us Mr President: What about the youth?

In the discussion about youth unemployment, the role of education is crucial, because the country’s education system is “still failing many of our young people”. Picture: iStock
In the discussion about youth unemployment, the role of education is crucial, because the country’s education system is “still failing many of our young people”. Picture: iStock

Deafening cheers, jubilant jives and the distinct aroma of a new dawn filled the oval bounds of Loftus Versfeld stadium. The seats were washed with a sea of colour mirroring the rainbow nation former President Nelson Mandela so kindly gave us.

As you stepped up on to the podium with your classic maroon tie to deliver your speech as president of South Africa, we fell silent and waited with baited breath. You sealed your inauguration with ideas of hope, prosperity and creating a better country for all who live in it.

Yet, as one of the future of this country, I couldn’t help but feel like a petulant juvenile seeking answers from an absent authority on the issues plaguing the youth.

Today I put it to you: “What about us, Mr President?

We have seen “Jobs for the Youth” sprawled over countless manifestos during the recent election, yet the youth unemployment pandemic fails to receive the urgency, momentum and robust policy creation it so deeply requires. According to Stats SA, youth aged from 15 to 24 years are the most vulnerable in the labour market. The unemployment rate among this group was 55.2% in the first quarter of 2019.

The #FeesMustFall movement put the vehicle in motion for greater access to higher tertiary education, yet a bleak reality awaits at the academic finish line.

The unemployment rate for South African youth graduates was 31% in the first quarter of this year, compared with 19.5% in the fourth quarter of last year. It is no surprise then that the 2016 Spectator Index ranked our country’s youth unemployment rate as the highest in the world. These statistics beg the question: What went wrong?

The clichéd truth, Mr President, is that enough is not being done. Youth empowerment lies dusty and untouched at the bottom of the state’s immediate action plan. You launched the Youth Employment Service (YES) in 2018 as an effort to create 300 000 job opportunities yearly for young people in the next three years.

Read: Dear President Ramaphosa, this is what needs to be done

As seen, this initiative encourages corporates and small, medium and micro enterprises to create one-year employment opportunities for unemployed black youth. It was recorded that more than 4 600 youth found work opportunities through the YES initiative last year.

If YES miraculously meets its goal of 300 000 jobs for the youth this year, it will only be a drop in the ocean of over 7.2 million unemployed youth.

Organisations seeking to empower the youth, such as the National Youth Development Agency and Junior Achievement SA, bear a burden too heavy for rapidly increasing unemployment rates.

Robust policies to span the substantial unemployment gap should consider greater funding to government and non-government organisations for extensive research into the shortfalls of the labour market.

The funding should contribute to effective skills training initiatives specifically aimed at matriculants who enter the labour market directly. Importantly, it should create more platforms to fund young entrepreneurs. This would not only encourage self-sustainability but also create jobs.

Current legislation should be revisited to enforce a mandatory, instead of a voluntary, obligation on the public sector and private sector in hiring and creating job opportunities for the youth. Lastly, the flimsy foundation of the basic education system needs to be adjusted as its quality and functionality transfer into tertiary education and the success thereof.

Cyril Ramaphosa has led South Africa’s ANC to its
Cyril Ramaphosa has led South Africa’s ANC to its sixth electoral victory. But he’s got his work cut out. Picture: Yeshiel Panchia/EPA-EFE

Our generation is tagged with the “born-free” fallacy and lulled into the misconception that our forebears fought the fight so that we could have the effortless pleasure of picking the bountiful fruits of this nation. Instead, we face complex issues such as the battle to enter the workforce, heightened by historic black tax bestowed by the injustices of the past, and coupled with dismantling a patriarchal capitalist system that discriminates on every platform. It is inevitable that the mental state of the youth deteriorates.

The SA Depression and Anxiety Group has revealed that one in four university students are diagnosed with depression and over 20% of 18-year-olds have made one or more suicide attempts. The youth’s mental wellbeing is in severe crisis. Shortages of clinical psychologists, a lack of affordable medication and insufficient student support centres at tertiary institutions remain a problem.

What you fail to see, Mr President, is that the inability of the youth to enter the labour market seeps into all areas of our lives. We seek answers at the bottom of a bottle and involuntarily become victims of alcohol abuse. Life is void of meaning and we therefore procreate at an unreasonably young age, which places a hefty burden on the state.

We feel driven to crime just so we can fill our hollow bellies with some sustenance to last the night. We stop being the orchestrators of our destinies and instead we become the victims of an unchanging system.

As June 16 approaches and you prepare to step on to the podium in your classic maroon tie to deliver a heartfelt commemoration of the Soweto uprising of 1976, may the brave fight of our predecessors and the current cries of our youth encourage you to consider: What about us, Mr President?

Beukes is a University of Pretoria law graduate and currently completing her postgraduate LLB degree

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