The youth policy review process is a moment of hope for young people

SA's youth unemployment is the highest in the world. Picture: iStock
SA's youth unemployment is the highest in the world. Picture: iStock

The department of women, youth and persons with disabilities has once again undertaken a nationwide review and consultation with regards to the national youth policy.

This process involved many organised youth formations, including the SA Youth Council (SAYC).

The review is an important platform that comes once every five years to give meaningful expression to the African Youth Charter and the African Union Action Plan, both of which underscore the significance of establishing youth policy frameworks across the continent to address the problems faced by young people.

As a result, South Africa is one of 32 countries that have an operational national youth policy framework, with the rest either having no youth policy status or having a policy that is in draft form.

Emanating from these provincial-based reviews of the national youth policy, relevant youth stakeholders, led by the department, are scheduled to consolidate the submission through a national youth policy consultative summit.

The summit, which was scheduled for March 23 and 24, has since been postponed owing to the Covid-19 coronavirus disaster declaration by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

As an apex youth body in South Africa, the SAYC has a direct interest in the process, outcomes and implementation of critical youth development for the country’s future.

Thus, mainstreaming of youth development policies is an urgent task to respond to many socioeconomic challenges besieging the youth of South Africa.

Young people are the hardest hit by the scourge of unemployment, which stands at 29.2%.

In 2011, National Treasury reported that about 2.8 million South African young people were neither in employment nor in education and training.

As a result, R9 billion was set aside to address the issue of unemployment through the establishment of the Jobs Fund.

But eradicating unemployment requires sustained economic growth, and it is not clear how has the fund had contributed to youth development, let alone burgeoning unemployment, despite its mandate being to drive economic growth.

I argue for a budget increase for the National Youth Development Agency to at least R1 billion.

Furthermore, the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training: Building on Expanded, Effective and Integrated Post-School Education (2014) called for expansion and reconfiguration of technical vocational education and training to enable access for young people to fulfil their potential and contribute to national goals and democracy.

In his state of the nation address last month, the president painted a grim picture for the immediate future of our youth, reporting that number of youth people neither in employment nor in education and training had since increased to 8.8 million.

To address these broad challenges, government, in the national youth policy (2009/14) committed to place young people’s interests as a national development priority.

In this regard, one of the objectives of that youth policy was to strengthen the capacity of key youth development institutions and ensure integration and coordination of youth services.

In line with this, I argue for a budget increase for the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) to at least R1 billion.

Such increase will, in part, demonstrate serious commitment from the government to the challenges of young people.

In addition, we need to review the NYDA Act, which is narrowly conceptualised.

The SAYC has long resolved for the expansion of the act, lobbying for a National Development Youth Act instead.

If revised and changed, the new act would concrete steps and recognition of many other young people who drive community and development initiatives that are committed to changing lives of others as expressed by the 2015/20 youth policy.

Furthermore, the Integrated Youth Development Strategy is of utmost importance and must be embedded in the policy to ensure clear guidelines of implementation, and the president must henceforth include it as part of his performance agreements with ministers as it will be absurd to have a policy without clear strategy integrated into youth development.

The private sector needs to redeem itself for having failed to honour the Youth Employment Accords signed in 2013 by all social partners.

The 2015/20 national youth policy reported that socioeconomic conditions of young people had improved over the past five years, without providing details of the improvements that came about as a result of the policy intervention.

As the policy undergoes another review this year, with possible amendments to make it durable for a decade, an in-depth analysis is critical to tracking the progress made since the 2015/20 review, and how other social partners have contributed to this noble goal of youth development.

It is crucial that young people know whether or not private sector and civil society played an optimal role in the past five years, and how the issue of resource constraints have been addressed as one of the reasons attributed to the limited role of civil society.

While the New Growth Path positioned the state to be the key driver of employment opportunities and to enhance incentive mechanisms to attract private sector investment, my view is that if youth development is seen and actioned as an integral part of the country’s progress and prosperity, private sector participation is essentially non-negotiable.

The private sector needs to redeem itself for having failed to honour the Youth Employment Accords signed in 2013 by all social partners.

I commend the Youth Employment Service programme, which is making progress in most companies locally.

The initiative, which was welcomed by the SAYC in April 2018, has given pointed support to small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs) and is crucial, given the pivotal role of SMMEs in any successful economy.

To this end, the Jobs Summit acknowledged that the GDP contribution of SMMEs was estimated at about 56%, and the National Development Plan predicted that by 2030 almost 90% of new employment would be created by the expanding SMME sector.

However, running and sustaining a successful small enterprise remains a challenge for many young black people in South Africa, thus private sector remains pivotal to running incubator programmes, mentorship, as well as providing finance management and market strategy skills for youth-led SMMEs.

In this regard, industry involvement will curb the failure of up to 50% of start-ups, which according to Stats SA, fold within two years owing to the many intricacies that come with running a business, in addition to limited access to funding and general lack of exposure and inexperience.

The national youth policy review process is indeed a moment of hope for young people.

Once adopted and signed, it is expected that all social partners and civil society will work hand-in-hand to fight the scourge of unemployment, poverty and other social ills ravaging society, young people in particular.

Sibiya heads the SAYC subcommittee on policy and research

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