by Makale Ngwenya
17 June 2014, the morning after the night before is usually accompanied by some form of disappointment and regret. Here the regret and disappointed is concerned with the lack of understanding our government clearly displays about the problem of youth unemployment. This is evidenced by HE Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s key note address at the commemoration of the 38th anniversary of June 16 1976 in Galeshewe, Northern Cape.
He mentioned that economic transformation must take and will take centre stage during this new term of government. As to what new measures this will entail remains anyone’s guess – particularly given the criticism levelled against Broad Based Economic Empowerment (BBEE). The question remains, what does this mean for the youth in particular? In his relatively short address, he went on to say “We therefore need to focus on special measures to ensure South Africa’s youth have access to training, work experience, jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities” They get an “A” for knowing what we are targeting – but these “special measures” remain suspect and devoid of any articulation.
“The intake of students for post-school education will therefore be massively expanded over the next five years,” he later exclaimed. I interpret this to mean that the government is gearing up for being the biggest employer in the economy – how is this supposed to be sustainable given South Africa’s shrinking tax base since the economy is shedding jobs? “Our experience has shown that even with improved education, young people struggle to find jobs.” I applaud the government for this honest reflection of the facts – young people aged 18-24 years who have left school and have never been employed before face the irony of having less chances of finding employment. This new dimension to youth unemployment is the long-term issue problem of youth unemployability. This, a structural issue, asks serious questions of the country’s education and economy. It just complicates matters and without the government’s appreciation of this new dimension, it invariably means they cannot respond to it. You cannot address what you don’t know.
Standing in for President Jacob Zuma on the day, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted a declaration that was adopted at the Presidential Indaba on Youth Skills in February this year – that internship programmes within the state and the private sector will be intensified. Internships give young people skills, but this only partially solves the problem given that both public and private sector employers are not obliged to retain these graduates. Many interns currently in government and the private sector are on 6 months to 2 years employment contracts – which is great for those lucky enough to be retained, but what happens to the the larger number of interns who cannot be retained?
Here is another example of how the government displays a clear lack of understanding toward this problem. Near the end of his speech, Ramaphosa said: “There should be a (higher) number of internships, starting with 20 000 a year from 2014 (and) rising progressively to 60 000 a year.” I have no idea how these numbers were generated, given the current job market – this sounds familiar to when President Jacob Zuma promised to generate 5 million jobs. But these numbers and his rhetoric is found wanting in the details. We cannot argue for the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) as the primary generator of these jobs because it’s based on a faulty premise. What must happen to the people emploed under its ambit after they have patched roads and picked up litter for only 100 of the 365 days of the year? Could this even be considered a real job given its insecurity and the fact that you are not registered with the labour department nor do you enjoy the benefits of full time employment?
In the case of the youth employment scheme (though it sounds like a good plan in the absence of many plans) – we have not heard plans about how the youth employment incentive scheme will be monitored and evaluated. How are the outcomes of these schemes supposed to be measured in terms of their impact in eradicating unemployment?
Generally, the problem of youth employment is passed around without any real anchor or champion which invariably leads to the issue being “everybody’s problem” but really no-one’s. The truth of the matter is that unemployment and unemployability impact negatively on the life experience of SA’s young, particularly when coupled with the immense pressure of multiple deprivations. My favourite part of the speech is where SA’s acting president referred to a “coordinated and multi-pronged response.” What exactly is this multi-pronged thing comprised of, what underpins this strategy? Anything worth doing is worth a plan and the government’s response in this regard has been half hearted at best. How they continually throws numbers at us, forgetting that we are those numbers, can be frustrating and often infuriating.
Youth month is but a commemoration of a specific time in our history nearly 40 years ago. We must locate the new struggle for young people within the “normal” democratic dispensation; I use normal with caution given that we are no longer under colonialism, segregation and apartheid. The dividends of democracy have not been realised just yet by the youth. It has been 20 years of unfreedom for the youth considering that we cannot avoid poverty, unemployment and income inequality. In the absence of jobs, the youth is falling through the cracks of social welfare systems, making social grants the primary source of income for many South Africans.
And the problems of our education system? Too painful to mention here.
Ms Makale Ngwenya is an Economist by profession, employed by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in the Economic Performance and Development Unit. Her interests in research lie in national systems of innovation, local development, and sustainable development. Ms Ngwenya is pursuing her Master’s degree in Joint African Masters Programme in Comparative Local Development in the faculty of Economics and Finance at the Institute for Economic Research on Innovation and Universita Degli Studi di Trento, Italy.