Today we observe Youth Day – the 43rd anniversary of the 1976 Soweto Uprisings – whereby tens of thousands of young South Africans stood up in protest against a system that discriminated against them and disregarded their legitimate role in society. Their protest on that day was against exclusion and neglect, and for that 176 children paid with their lives as they were gunned down by the police.
43 years later, and young people are still forced to fight a system that excludes them and locks them out of opportunities. While back then it was language used to discriminate and exclude, today it’s the rank failure of government to provide quality education, training, and job opportunities for our young people.
Our young people are still not truly free, and their prospects for a bright and successful future dwindle with each passing day. Four out of five children in grade 4 cannot comprehend what they read thanks to our education system, which is consistently ranked among the worst in the world.
This disadvantage follows many young people for the rest of their lives as today two-thirds of South Africans under the age of 24 cannot find work, and many of them eventually give up looking. Since 2008, at least 563 young people have joined the ranks of the unemployed each day.
We cannot simply point fingers at government. Instead, we must seek solutions to this national crisis. We must collaborate in Parliament, in government, in business, in labour, and in civil society, to fix this exclusionary system and empower our young people.
There are immediate solutions to break down the barriers that keep young people locked out of opportunities. These are:
- Passing our “Jobs Bill”, which focuses on two key areas critical to our economic recovery: Foreign Investment and SMMEs. The Bill provides for special tax incentives and property allowances for foreign companies that meet certain socio-economic empowerment goals, as well as a wide range of incentives for foreign companies to invest in SA. This will bring thousands of job opportunities to our shores.
- Rolling out a national Job Centres project where unemployed people access the internet, search a centralised jobs database, get help in compiling their CV, print out documents and even complete short courses in fields like digital training, entrepreneurship, project management and many more.
- Introducing a Voluntary National Civilian Service year to provide work experience for the approximately 78 443 unemployed matriculants (from the class of 2016 alone) to enter into work-based training in the community healthcare, basic education or SAPS fields. These young people will gain valuable work experience while earning a small stipend;
- Preparing our young people for the future by ensuring that coding is made compulsory at schools, introduce them fully to the internet of things while we ensure that the cost of data is affordable;
- A “cradle-to-career” plan that includes improving our early childhood development centres, fixing our failing basic education system and expanding access to tertiary education, with a truly progressive funding model where the poor are subsidised but those who can afford to pay do so; and
- Reducing SADTUs power to ensure that teachers are better held accountable for the outcomes in their classrooms. This will allow teachers to be properly assessed, trained, monitored and incentivised.
43 years on from the Soweto Uprisings, millions of young South Africans remain excluded, marginalised and without hope. Our fight is to ensure that young people have a prosperous future in South Africa, and I will not stop until this fight is won.