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Youth must take centre stage in SA’s transformation project

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Youth celebrate the 48th anniversary of the Youth Day Commemoration event held at the old Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane, Limpopo Province on June 16, 2024. Deputy President Paul Mashatile delivered the keynote address at the event. Picture: GCIS

By Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma

At the dawn of democracy, South African society was deeply divided along social, political, economic, and spatial lines. The country was isolated from the global community and excluded from almost all progressive multilateral institutions and international agendas. The government inherited a plethora of discriminatory laws and practices against Blacks (inclusive of Africans, Coloureds, and Indians) which negatively affected the majority of the country’s youth population.

Before 1994, the youth in South Africa was perceived in contrasting ways depending on the prevailing political climate. Some regarded them as heroes of the liberation struggle, while others viewed them as reckless, impulsive, and unmanageable adversaries of apartheid.

This perception shifted significantly in 1994, with President Nelson Mandela recognising young people as a crucial national asset. He famously stated that the youth are the valued possession of the nation. ‘Without them, there can be no future. Their needs are immense and urgent. They are the centre of reconstruction and development.”

Since 1994, significant demographic changes have taken place in South Africa. The total population has grown from 40.6 million people in 1996 to 62 million in 2022, of which almost 21% are young people between the ages of 14 to 35.

As part of the broader agenda to transform South African society, the institutions dedicated to rendering services to the youths were also established, namely: the National Youth Commission (1996); Umsobomvu Youth Fund (2001); the National Youth Development Unit in The Presidency (2005); the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA, 2008) and the South African Youth Council was also established as an umbrella body for youth-led and youth-serving civil society organisations.

To further intensify the development and empowerment of young people, the South African government has, since April 1994, developed several legislation, policies, and frameworks as the basis for designing programmes and projects that respond to the needs of the youth.

The National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 advocates for active youth involvement in establishing a transformative and proficient state to eradicate poverty, unemployment, and inequality in South Africa. The (2009-2014, 2015-2020, 2020-2030); the National Youth Service Framework; Integrated Youth Development Plan; M&E Framework for the National Youth Policies. These policies and frameworks guide stakeholders in the delivery of youth development services.

There were also interventions which improved the lives of the youths for the better, which include the Employment Youth Accord which provide for the youth set asides, the Employment Tax Incentive, work exposure programmes such as the National Youth Service programme, the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention, support for enterprise and cooperatives exemplified by graduate placement programmes such as the Comprehensive Agriculture Support Programme, educational interventions such as those promoting fields like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), marked increase in school enrolments with early childhood development having surged from 40% in 2002 to 90% in 2021, nearly 60% of black learners now complete Grade 12, 51% of schools receiving Bachelors are those who were previously performing, 9.6 million (84%) children receive free nutritious meal daily, enhanced school infrastructure, digital skills in areas such as coding, robotics, artificial intelligence, teacher support programmes, introduction of bursaries such as like Fundza Lushaka, and the #FeesMustFall movement advocated for accessible, decolonised education for all students, leading to the government allocating R57 billion for the 2018/19-2020/21 fiscal years.

At present 75% of public school learners do not pay school fees and receive learning materials such as textbooks for free, 60% of learners in no-fee schools are provided with transport for free, and more than 90% of learners with disabilities now attend school.

On improved access to healthcare services for rural and underprivileged communities, new clinics and state-of-the-art hospitals have sprung up all across the country, there has been an intensification of comprehensive sexual education, and several public health campaigns to combat diseases like HIV and AIDS, as well as tuberculosis, were implemented. To promote social cohesion, we continue strengthening community engagement and participation in decision-making processes, and also implementing programmes that address social disparities and promote equality such as sports, culture, arts, music, etc.

In addition, for the period 2019 – 2024, the NYDA has supported over 100,000 youth with non-financial interventions and more than 10,000 with financial support interventions. A special COVID-19 relief programme also supported 1,000 distressed youth-owned enterprises during the pandemic. The NYDA unlocked additional funds through partnerships with provinces and other entities, that facilitated the creation and sustenance of over 32,000 jobs. 9 977 youth-owned enterprises were also supported with financial interventions (Grant Funding) and 114 049 youth were supported with non-financial business development interventions.

Important to note is that, there are still persistent challenges which continue to affect the youth, such as high unemployment rate, increased poverty levels; and increased inequality gap, amongst others. On unemployment, the 1996 National Census recorded the youth unemployment rate to be at 53.2%.

Whereas entrepreneurship is vital for development and job creation, youth participation remains low. Even though South African youth entrepreneurship participation rose from 6% in 2010 to only 12.8% in 2014, it is still the lowest in Africa and only one in every nine South African business starters is a young person (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report, 2010). There are also social ills that continue to impact youths’ lives negatively such as crime, teenage pregnancies, substance abuse, poor physical and mental health, high suicide rate, etc.

The Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities and the NYDA hosted two successful BRICS Youth Summits and BRICS Ministers responsible for Youth Development Meetings, in 2018 and 2023 respectively. In 2023, the BRICS Youth Council which guided the establishment of the BRICS Youth Council was presented. The BRICS Youth Council has since been established.

In the 7th Administration, we will continue to accelerate the implementation of initiatives that address young people’s needs, mainly targeting the reduction of the high unemployment rate through demand-led skills development. In this regard, the Deputy President launched the South African National Service Institute as a vehicle through which the re-imagined National Service will be delivered.

It is envisaged that there will be hundreds of thousands of opportunities that will be created to address the unemployment crisis at a scale that will achieve the targets contained in the National Development Plan.

Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma is the Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities.