We need to solve the jobless pandemic
Moeletsi Mbeki sounds a warning in his book Architects of Poverty, but few people listened to his message. Instead, many of those in leadership chose to castigate him.
Today, our unemployment rate is more than 27%. This has become a national crisis, similar to a raging pandemic that causes many physical and social ills. Like any crisis, it should be the national focus and the yardstick by which all economic activity is judged.
Unemployment is taking its toll on young people. Some even wish they had not been born at all.
An executive who works at one of the biggest and oldest life assurance companies in the country told me that the suicide rate among youngsters is increasing.
Einsteinian wisdom says we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we had when we created them. Often, you have to reframe the problem without changing its character.
The challenge facing South Africa is not only redressing past imbalances, but getting our young people employed.
It is about giving them a taste of the better life that was promised.
Most of the youngsters in this country were not even born when we attained our freedom. They do not understand the hatred and the hurt that was caused by apartheid.
So, when they sit alone, hungry, desperate and unemployed, we cannot expect them to sympathise with us.
In the past 24 years, we have been able to double the middle class, which was possible because the economy was growing. This middle class has higher expectations, and rightly so.
South Africa must be the beacon of hope in Africa, and must be the example of a true and tangible example of the reversal of centuries of colonialism and apartheid.
We must think ahead, and any discussions on economic transformation and policy changes such as land expropriation must put employment front and centre.
The proponents of any policies must say how many people will be employed, and then be held accountable if they break their promises.
It has been said many times that at the heart of our problems is that, as a nation, we have lost a unifying purpose.
Many commentators have said that those in power are no longer setting the agenda or, even if they do, it is not audacious.
Often, they are pandering to the whims of a directionless opposition, which has made its mark by perfecting the art of shouting the loudest in a bar.
A few years ago, I was looking to employ a young man with certain skills, but, most importantly, I was looking for someone ambitious who would take the company forward.
One of the people I interviewed was a very respectable and respectful young man. When I asked him where he wanted to go, he said he didn’t know; that he would go wherever the future took him.
That was not the kind of attitude we needed.
I didn’t hire the young man because I interviewed someone after him whose confidence bordered on arrogance, but he could back it all up.
He had deep knowledge of the business, history and experience, but, in my book, that counted for little. What was more important was that he was hungry for success and knowledge.
So I hired him. We parted ways after a few years and I have watched him fly into the stratosphere.
This is the attitude we must cultivate in our youngsters. We must liberate our country from the notion that government has answers to all of our problems.
The citizens are not just passive bystanders whose delivery will come from Parliament.
Our youngsters must be part of the solution to unemployment – they should be given the confidence and the tools to start businesses and even be allowed to fail.
If we want our youth to feed us, we must not try to spoon-feed them.