Sifiso Skenjana | We are failing SA's youth - and how to remedy it is not yet fully understood

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Sifiso Skenjana (supplied)
Sifiso Skenjana (supplied)
  • A new tool has been launched to measure youth progress in a number of areas. 
  • It examines their basic human needs, well-being, and access to opportunity.
  • Aggressive and targeted interventions must be put in place to address the opportunity deficiencies for young people.


The Covid-19 pandemic has hit South Africa at a time when we are already reeling from a number of ongoing crises in our country, particularly in the spheres of education, employment, the economy and youth.

Much has been said about the need to pay particular attention to the youth crisis in all its dimensions: social, economic and structural. Stats SA's employment figures show a higher level of unemployment among young people in the country - across all levels of education – at a rate of 58.1% for youth aged 15–24 and 35.6% for those aged 25-34.

In the same vein, Zoch (2016), in his paper Measuring Social and Economic Mobility in South Africa: New Approaches to Well-Known Survey Data Concerns, finds that the time it would take for income gaps to be eliminated (half-life gap) is approximately 22.7 years.

This means that unless aggressive and targeted interventions are put in place to address the opportunity deficiencies for young people in the economy, inequality and chronic levels of poverty will continue to plague South Africa, particularly for black South Africans.

Given the pace at which unemployment has accelerated and will continue to, on the back of a Covid-19 impacted economy and rising poverty levels in the country, it is clear that we cannot take a race and gender agnostic view in our approach to problem solving for South Africa's youth - otherwise we risk missing a real opportunity to bridge the inequality divide.

Some of the social dynamics that lend themselves to regressive outcomes for youth include spatial issues, crime, education and access.

To illustrate this, in 2017, 11% of registered births were from the ages 15–19, with teenage pregnancies also subject to disproportionately higher hypertensive disorder mortality rates. There clearly are issues of sexual crime, lack of education, lack of prevention and limited access to quality health facilities for these vulnerable groups of girls and young women.

Teen pregnancies have other negative externalities, like the discontinuation of their studies, a rise in child grant provision and, given the prevalent vulnerability to poverty incidence, we are also likely to see a growth in malnutrition, orphaned children and those with psychosocial disorders.

Kingdon and Knight (2006), in their paper Subjective Well-being Poverty versus Income Poverty and Capabilities Poverty, found a number of differences between discouraged work-seekers and actively seeking unemployed individuals.

Broadly, they found that the discouraged work-seekers exhibited lower household incomes, higher unemployment rates per household member and poorer sanitation and water facilities when compared to the active seekers. In addition, the discouraged work-seekers generally lived in areas on the urban fringe with little to no access to amenities and services, such as banks, post offices, schools and shops.

What is clear is that the challenges facing young people in South Africa are multifaceted and complex, and to kickstart the journey towards a more textured understanding of the multi-dimensions affecting youth outcomes, IQbusiness has launched its inaugural Youth Progress Index (YPI).

The YPI is built around a comprehensive framework that comprises three dimensions:

1) Basic human needs: considers young people's ability to survive with adequate nourishment and basic medical care, clean water, sanitation, adequate shelter and personal safety.

2) Foundations of well-being: captures whether a society offers building blocks for young people to improve their lives, such as gaining a basic education, obtaining information, access to communications, benefitting from an effective healthcare system and living in a healthy environment.

3) Opportunity: captures whether young people have the freedom and opportunity to make their own choices. Personal rights, personal freedom and choice, tolerance and inclusion, and access to advanced education all contribute to the level of opportunity within a given society.

The YPI aims to take the first step at quantifying the deficiencies and successes at a sub-national level to ensure that all the interventions and programmes are targeted, appropriate, impactful and successful.

It ensures that we have a quantitative and qualitative monitoring and evaluation tool that we can use to measure our own effort towards the betterment of youth outcomes in the decade ahead of us.

The demographic dividend can only be realised if young people grow to become prosperous and productive members of society.

It is upon us all to ensure we plant the right seeds today, to ensure we reap the rewards in the medium and long term.

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