The future of South Africa is inextricably linked to investments in the education and training of the country’s youth, President Jacob Zuma has said.
Addressing the Commonwealth Conference on Education and training of Youth Workers at the University of Pretoria this morning, Zuma said South Africa should capitalise on the fact that its population was made up of young, “economically active” people unlike most developed countries in the world.
“In South Africa, more than 40% of those who are economically active and under the age of 30 are unemployed. While this is worrying, there is also a positive angle,” said Zuma, highlighting that countries with higher numbers of young people had better economic growth prospects compared to those with ageing populations.
With a third of South Africa’s population under the age of 15 and over 77% under the age of 35, Zuma said South Africa, with the right investment in education of the youth, had a brighter future.
“This makes us very optimistic regarding growth prospects. This makes us a nation with a future, and we must utilise all available resources to build that future. That future is our young people.
“Therefore our focus on improving the quality of education is well-placed as we are investing in our children and the youth to ensure sustainable development,” said Zuma, who was accompanied by minister for performance and monitoring in the Presidency, Collins Chabane.
Zuma commended investments in education and said that with 50% of the population in countries in the commonwealth under the age of 30, the future of these countries was bright.
“We are all present here today because young people hold the key to our future. We can only prosper if there are dedicated efforts to invest in the youth.
“In South Africa we used Commonwealth Day to recognise achievement in areas such as social entrepreneurship, green and sustainable industries, and technological innovation to name a few.
“We have re-committed ourselves to promote youth development opportunities for those that will be the future leaders of our country,” said Zuma.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Perth, Australia, in 2011 had also committed all countries under the commonwealth to bolster the youth’s voice on national and international matters through enhancing communication with the youth, collecting and sharing good practices.
He said efforts to ensure that youth workers were professionalised and recognised for providing health, education and developmental services to the youth, had yielded little results but more lobbying was needed to recognise this sector.
A lot of work was being done at universities and institutions of higher learning within the commonwealth to offer formal training in youth work as a professional course.
“Such formalisation gives youth work a formal base and promotes this work in the mainstream of professions which is the desired effect.
“I am however informed that while training has taken place for a lot of youth workers, youth work or youth development practice as a profession is still not recognised. Such work remains undefined and less exposed,” said Zuma.
Access to affordable education, said Zuma, was among the main issues that commonwealth leaders identified as urgent.
Satisfying the employment and developmental needs of young people would be one of the main topics at the Brics summit to be held in Durban next week by the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, he said.
“We expect Durban to be a hive of activity and that many opportunities will be taken up by the business community of our country, in particular, to promote investment into our beautiful country,” said Zuma.
In the same vein Dr Bernice Hlagala, the head of youth development in the Presidency, said that if South Africa was to become a prosperous country “it can’t be business as usual” in terms of youth development.
“Policies need to shift in favour of the youth to respond to the needs of young people,” said Hlagala.