State must re­work its youth strat­egy

CityPress - - Voices - Lukhona Mn­guni voices@city­

Youth Month 2017 had as its theme The Year of Oliver Regi­nald Tambo: Ad­vanc­ing Youth Eco­nomic Em­pow­er­ment. It sig­ni­fied gov­ern­ment’s recog­ni­tion of the need to im­prove the eco­nomic well­be­ing of South Africa’s youth and erad­i­cate poverty and des­ti­tu­tion.

How­ever, while chal­lenges fac­ing the youth are plen­ti­ful, so­lu­tions are sorely lack­ing.

Gov­ern­ment is aware of the need for state in­ter­ven­tion to help the youth pre­vail. To this end, it has promised im­prove­ment in three broad cat­e­gories: job op­por­tu­ni­ties, ed­u­ca­tion and en­trepreneur­ship.

But there are no con­vinc­ing poli­cies to en­sure sus­tain­able youth de­vel­op­ment.

Job op­por­tu­ni­ties are tran­sient. Short­term, on-the-job train­ing is pro­vided, along with short-term em­ploy­ment. This is sim­ply not good enough.

Dur­ing his Youth Day com­mem­o­ra­tion address on June 16, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma said: “Since the launch of the Ex­panded Pub­lic Works Pro­gramme Phase 3 in April 2014, over 1.2 mil­lion work op­por­tu­ni­ties have been taken up by the youth out of the to­tal 2.6 mil­lion work op­por­tu­ni­ties cre­ated by the pro­gramme.”

Yet, even this pro­gramme has not proven to have re­duced un­em­ploy­ment. This is be­cause these job op­por­tu­ni­ties are tem­po­rary. Gov­ern­ment should fo­cus on cre­at­ing de­cent and sus­tain­able em­ploy­ment for the youth.

Al­though this can be achieved through en­trepreneur­ship, the state has yet to prove that it is com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing cap­i­tal fund­ing for young peo­ple.

Cur­rently, the Na­tional Youth De­vel­op­ment Agency pro­vides fund­ing for youth start-ups capped at R100 000 per ben­e­fi­ciary. Any or­gan­i­sa­tion that is se­ri­ous about fund­ing start-ups knows that this amount – in our strug­gling econ­omy – is grossly in­ad­e­quate.

One would also ex­pect the agency and gov­ern­ment to run in­no­va­tion com­pe­ti­tions. Why? Be­cause you do not nec­es­sar­ily train en­trepreneurs. Rather, you un­leash their in­no­va­tion, har­ness it and in­sti­tu­tion­alise it, while back­ing them with ad­e­quate re­sources.

In his Youth Day speech, Zuma also ac­knowl­edged in­no­va­tive young South Africans, some of whom are own­ers of small, medium and mi­cro en­ter­prises (SMMEs). How­ever, he did not promise that gov­ern­ment would iden­tify two or three of those youths as be­ing wor­thy of in­vest­ing in their ideas and scal­ing up their busi­nesses.

This con­tra­dicts the state’s com­ment, made in the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan, about see­ing SMMEs as the next driv­ers and en­ablers of eco­nomic growth and di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion, and em­ploy­ment ab­sorp­tion.

A struc­tural prob­lem fac­ing South Africa is that our econ­omy is too con­sumerist, with scant at­ten­tion fo­cused on agri­cul­ture and in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion. Many of our plan­ta­tions and man­u­fac­tur­ing plants have been ne­glected in the past 20 years. Some have been con­verted into res­i­den­tial ar­eas.

Gov­ern­ment speaks of cre­at­ing 100 black in­dus­tri­al­ists, but it is vague about the type of in­dus­tri­al­ists it has in mind, which sec­tors it is pri­ori­tis­ing and how these in­dus­tri­al­ists will be sup­ported to com­pete in global mar­kets. To de­velop black in­dus­tri­al­ists, the state should set up an in­no­va­tion tech­nol­ogy hub where ideas can be cul­ti­vated. These can then be sim­u­lated to gauge their po­ten­tial and scal­a­bil­ity.

The state’s fo­cus should not be solely on nur­tur­ing in­dus­tri­al­ists who will com­pete in ex­ist­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing ven­tures be­cause these are al­ready be­ing up­staged by their global coun­ter­parts. We need to re­think the place of South Africa in the world and what we can, and should, of­fer. Ideas should come first, then a pro­gramme can fol­low.

It is true that for these ideas to pro­lif­er­ate, there must be de­cent ed­u­ca­tion. While gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts at cre­at­ing ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, es­pe­cially through nofee pub­lic schools, are laud­able the cur­rent sys­tem of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion – with its de­mor­alised ed­u­ca­tors, in­ad­e­quate in­fras­truc­ture, disen­gaged com­mu­ni­ties and dis­in­ter­ested learn­ers – is a sham­bles. The re­sult is a high at­tri­tion rate.

Even in the higher ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing sec­tor, de­spite the bil­lions of rands in­vested by the state through its Na­tional Stu­dent Fi­nan­cial Aid Scheme, there has been no value for money. Pass rates for its ben­e­fi­cia­ries have been wor­ry­ingly poor for years be­cause of in­ad­e­quate aca­demic sup­port. Many of these students end up drop­ping out of univer­sity and be­ing un­able to re­pay these funds. The state needs to beef up its sup­port of ed­u­ca­tion by de­liv­er­ing qual­ity in­side as well as out­side class­rooms and lec­ture halls.

That gov­ern­ment lacks a youth de­vel­op­ment strat­egy is all too ev­i­dent. To un­leash the po­ten­tial of South Africa’s youth, its im­me­di­ate fo­cus must be on se­cur­ing en­ergy for the growth of new in­dus­tries, on qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion as well as on ef­fi­cient, re­li­able and af­ford­able pub­lic trans­port. The success of the lat­ter will en­able young peo­ple to save on travel costs for work pur­poses and pre­vent them from suc­cumb­ing to the pres­sure of buy­ing a car for ease of mo­bil­ity and, in so do­ing, in­cur­ring debt.

Mn­guni is a PhD in­tern re­searcher in the Mau­rice Webb Race Re­la­tions Unit

at the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Natal. He writes on be­half of Liv­ity Africa’s

Pro­ject Democ­racy Ini­tia­tive

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