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Placing the Youth Agenda into the centre of the Growth and Development Summit

22 April 2003

The economic plight of the youth of South Africa is a call for great concern. If anything, it is a call to action. Statistical evidence reveals that about 70% of the unemployed economically active population are young people, below the age of 35. Within the category of young people, the African youth, the rural youth and young women bear the largest and deepest brunt of grinding youth unemployment and under-employment. Without any fear of contradiction, the truth is that the greatest yearning for the youth of our country today is for economic participation - for the opportunity to contribute to economic growth and development and to benefit from such growth and development.

Thus, the impending Growth and Development Summit (GDS), which seeks to re-invigorate strategies for economic growth and sustainable development in South Africa, should firmly place the issues of youth development and economic empowerment central on its agenda. Indeed, the statistics quoted above vindicate the statement that we are making about the centrality of youth in any employment creation strategies. Amid meaningful progress on improving the lives of young people, a lot still needs to be done resolutely to reverse the legacy of youth economic marginalisation and exclusion. The greatest gains of the youth of our country thus far have been in the political and social spheres. Economically, they remain marginalized.

It is important for us as young people to take part in and to shape the discourse regarding growth and development in order for our views to be taken into account. Being the most affected, we are logically a very key stakeholder in the process. There are several key imperatives and considerations that should be discussed and adopted at the GDS which would begin resolutely to address the challenges faced by the youth in the current epoch and beyond. Our approach to the GDS must be predicated upon the objective to accelerate the integration of the youth into the labour market and to improve sustainable livelihood among them. Accordingly, such an approach would be underpinned by three approaches; that is, direct labour market absorption, youth entrepreneurship and human resources development.

With regard to labour market absorption, the approach must be both to sustain and expand the current initiatives such as the Community-based Public Works Programmes (CB-PWP`s) and to initiate new programmes such as the National Youth Service Programme (NYSP). With regard to the latter, it must be appreciated that the Cabinet recently endorsed the NYSP Framework presented by the National Youth Commission, and to take this process forward, Cabinet has requested that an implementation plan be developed. Youth Service entails engaging young people in community-based public programmes, learnership programmes, infrastructure development programmes and others as a platform for them to acquire accredited technical and life skills and work experience, and to develop their patriotism. The upside is both for the community as a result of the service rendered by the youth and for the youth person in the form of skills and experience acquired. The NYSP should, in our view, be properly resources by marshalling different existing resources and mobilising new resources in government.

The President also announced during his response to the State of the Nation debate that government was going to announce another integrated and sustainable youth development and empowerment programme linked to the development nodal points in the urban renewal and rural development strategies.

On the other hand, the expanded CB-PWP must commit to make use of and include the NYSP as a delivery mechanism. For instance, if there is a road to be built, young people in that community should be drawn in to participate and/or partner in such a construction project. This deliberate and systematic economic engagement of the youth will not only benefit the community in its development needs, but also the youth in terms of skills formation and entrepreneurship. The NYC and Umsobomvu Youth Fund (UYF) have in the recent past piloted several youth service programmes and there is an urgent need now further to intensify and build on the success of these initiatives.

With regard to youth entrepreneurship, it is crucial that the GDS accepts the perspective that the economic role of young people transcends into entrepreneurship and empowerment, beyond the mere seeking and attainment of a job. The strategic goal must be to create a new generation of entrepreneurs as a way to create new wealth and expertise, to ensure economic growth and development. Youth business aspirations and initiatives already exist in various communities, including in rural areas, but they usually, as a general rule, face the same challenge of lack of finance, business development support (BDS) and mentorship. Although we have witnessed a number of SMME support programmes being established, very few young people have benefited from such initiatives. In general, young people do not have the required credit collateral. Whilst we do not advocate for an imprudent approach to credit, we need the private sector and development funding institutions to develop appropriate tools that can assist the youth to overcome the hurdle of not being able to provide security or collateral.

Furthermore, business support and mentorship are key in order to provide assistance regarding business plan development, productivity improvement, compliance with regulatory and tax regimes, contracting and so forth. The one form of BDS which has to be accelerated is appropriate entrepreneurship training and education both in and out of school. Given that most young people leave school with little prospect of finding employment, this support will assist them to pursue self-employment. We know that there is a high correlation between having technical skills and work experience on the one hand, and running a successful business on the other hand. Hence, the initial recommendation regarding strengthening youth service programmes which will assist young people to acquire the requisite competence for them to exit into self-employment.

Both the public and the private sectors must create an enabling environment for procurement opportunities for youth enterprises. The NYC and UYF must lead the pack in this regard, to demonstrate faith in youth enterprises and the courage to take risks on them. Youth co-operatives should also be taken into account when considering entrepreneurship matters. In this regard, we propose youth cooperatives at all municipal levels right across the country. In countries like Kenya, youth cooperatives have worked exceptionally well in integrating youth into the mainstream economy and the labour market. It is crucial to develop our own home-grown youth cooperatives formula and to establish an enabling regulatory and tax conditions for cooperatives to thrive.

With regard to human resources development, government must accelerate and expand its public internship programmes as a way to bring in first time entrants into the labour market, and must assist young people to acquire skills and a work experience. It is opportune for the state to increase the scale of this programme as a way both to create jobs and to improve service delivery to the public. The array of opportunities for the government to bring young people into its fold in a coordinated fashion is vast, without such interventions amounting to labour substitution or displacement. For instance, young unemployed law graduates may be drawn in to assist in addressing the backlog in pending court cases and, by so doing, contribute to the improvement of the judicial system, particularly, case-load backlogs.

The private sector, despite the tax incentives government announced some two years ago, has been slow in implementing the learnership programmes. The Department of Labour has recently put in place certain measures that should assist companies to implement learnership programmes. As young people, we are surely and deeply concerned at the poor and indifferent response by the private sector in creating opportunities for youth training which, by its very nature, perpetuates youth economic disenfranchisement. Through the GDS, we hope to see renewed commitment and enthusiasm from the private sector because, in the end, everyone, especially our country, stands to benefit. In addition, funds accumulated in the National Skills Fund (NSF) must continue to be applied to other skills programmes other than learnerships. Notably, the skills component of the NYSP must also be resourced from the NSF, among others. For this to happen, it is necessary for the regulations governing learnerships to be expanded to accommodate the NYSP.

Again, we reiterate the point that youth unemployment has reached crisis proportions. The country will turn a blind eye to it at its own peril. Of course, whereas this is a result of aggregate unemployment in the economy, it is imperative that a focused and special attention be paid to the economic aspirations of young people. The youth, especially the employed and hence privileged, must also demonstrate their own commitment towards the plight of the 70% of the unemployed by committing to the Youth Solidarity Fund. This Fund, to be constituted of the financial contributions of the 1 day gross remuneration of all working youth and others who, even if unemployed but, have access to financial or monetary opportunities to be able to make such a contribution, will be critical to reinforce the resources currently available to fund youth economic empowerment. It is our belief that whereas we have expectations of government and the private sector to fund youth economic empowerment, young people themselves must contribute something towards those less privileged. On the other hand, and towards the same fund, the unemployed youth must contribute their skills and labour for free towards national economic development, in the form of volunteering to work in some community development projects for free, the funds developed of which should be channelled towards the Youth Solidarity Fund.

Malusi Gigaba,
ANCYL President