Rising youth unemployment: does the ruling ANC really care?

2012-12-17 14:03

Unemployment rates in South Africa – in particular youth unemployment remains very high and is probably one of the highest in the world. Millions of South African youth would attest to the fact that it is rather a challenge getting a job regardless of the qualification one has. The size of the challenge is considerable. For those without any form of formal qualification, the process of seeking employment is even more exigent.

Despite the plausible economic, social and political improvements post 1994, youth unemployment remains rather acute and has worsened over the years.

During his political report speech at the 53rd ANC National Conference, the incumbent President of the ANC, Jacob Zuma barely made any mention of the efforts taken by the ruling party in addressing this problem. So to say, the speech sounded more like a string of self-congratulatory platitudes in disguise of a less than overwhelming five year term of maladministration, corruption, service delivery protests and numerous labour strikes to list a few. In addition, we have witnessed political elites tainted by selfishness, greed and the desire to superficially gratify the self over the needs of the poor masses.

Also worth noting is the ineffectiveness of parliament in hosting meaningful and robust debates as important issues were often countered by the ruling party. Habitually debates of public importance were turned down. One of them was on South Africa’s high youth unemployment and the need for a youth wage subsidy.

This got me wondering whether the ANC has any desires to tackle these inordinately high levels of youth joblessness.

Young people seem to be outsiders in the South African economy, continuously suffering disproportionately from unemployment, economic marginalization and discouragement. The high unemployment rate among the youth has become a longstanding characteristic of the South African economy and it remains persistent. Unemployment rates for young people are significantly higher than the national average, which in itself is already high by international standards.

In the South African context, a number of interventions currently exist, but fragmentation, lack of co-ordination and clear direction from the ANC and consequently from the government presents a problem. One of the interventions; a youth wage subsidy, has been proposed to subsidize the cost of hiring young workers since firms are reluctant to hire inexperienced work-seekers and school-leavers who lack basic workplace competencies. This keeps doors shut for young people to enter workplaces.

These doors presently remain shut because the ANC has not shown strong political will to open them in the face of policy division and opposition from its alliance partners, particularly Cosatu. The R5 billion youth wage subsidy that remains in the government pipelines has been blocked by Cosatu. The trade union federation believes that the youth wage subsidy will have significant substitution effects in that firms might let go of existing workers in order to employ subsidized ones (i.e. the subsidized youth). ANC leaders don’t seem to have the guts to take Cosatu on especially in light of the Mangaung elective conference.

The ANCYL has also shot down the proposed youth wage subsidy citing that “it would probably help private companies to maximize profits”, this despite the success of the subsidy in countries that have implemented it.

Sadly, millions of unemployed youths are caught up in between this political calamity resulting in a compromise of the needs of South Africa’s youth who are in desperate need of a better life.

Fair enough, there is no silver bullet in reducing unemployment in general. Solving unemployment is an interdisciplinary process that certainly takes time. SA faces the dual demand and supply side constraint; hence the idea of a wage subsidy given that the SETAS don’t seem to be able to produce the skills and opportunities required by young people and probably for this reason the National Skills Fund has failed to disburse millions of rands in funds allocated to it annually.

The latest Census results show that the population is getting younger and this should be an alarm to the ANC to act faster. The country has a young population, with most of the nearly 52-million under 39 years of age.

South Africa’s demographics present both a challenge and an opportunity in itself. It is by tackling youth unemployment that we can break down the barriers between those who are included and excluded from economic participation. Tackling poverty starts with inclusive economic growth. Inclusive growth requires greater participation and employment, particularly of young people. This is something the ruling ANC needs to seriously think about and act upon if it really cares about the survival and wellbeing of young South Africans.

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