Kristin Palitza
Kristin Palitza

A country without future?

I had a long conversation with a small group of unemployed youths a few days ago. Young people in their early 20s, who are supposed to have a long, bright future ahead of them. At least theoretically.

These guys were not so sure about that though. They were actually quite angry. Jaded already before they hit 30. The government and its civil servants, those who are supposed to be their leaders, their role models, had abandoned them, they felt. They see corruption and nepotism all around them. Services, promised during election time, repeatedly not being delivered.

Their main goals in life — a house, a car, a family — they don’t think they will ever reach. And that’s actually not too much to ask for, is it? All of them still live with relatives, trying hard to get the odd job to contribute something to the overall household income, living off R50 a week. Their outlook on the next ten years in South Africa? Gloomy. We’ll be even worse off then than we already are now, was the shared response.

Their mantra: If you want to make things happen, you gotta fight hard for it yourself. An attempt at defying their lot. And that’s certainly true. We all need to be the driving force behind our achievements. We need to be motivated go-getters that grab an opportunity with both hands when we see one. We are, to a large degree, responsible for the successes, and failures, of our lives.

But when they made those statements, it sounded like a too often repeated slogan, empty of meaning, straight out of a motivational speaker’s phrase book. It stood in stark contrast with the reality these young people experience on a day-to-day basis. Although I could see that they wanted to make things happen for themselves and not only sit around and wait for luck to knock on their doors, I didn’t buy a single word they said. I could see that behind the brave faces they had put on, they were thoroughly disillusioned.

They are well aware that they can’t expect government to present them with an easy solution to their problems and struggles. But surely, there is also the government’s social responsibility that comes into play here — provision of basic services to all its citizens, including housing, health care and employment, which are all basic human rights actually.

And these were exactly the areas where these young people felt they came short. They complained about the rising food prices, petrol price hikes that translate into higher public transport fares, lack of job opportunities, housing shortage, limited access to tertiary education for financial reasons, and so on.

It’s disheartening to meet young people who don’t believe they have future, and it’s deeply worrying, too, because chances are that they will grow into adults full of disappointment, frustration and anger, time bombs ready to explode and to let out their discontent on those who are even weaker than they are.

Youth without a future is a country without future.

  • ThembaB

    “It’s disheartening to meet young people who don’t believe they have future, and it’s deeply worrying, too, because chances are that they will grow into adults full of disappointment, frustration and anger, time bombs ready to explode …”

    Chances are that they will grow into people who emmigrate as they do not see a future in South Africa, taking valuable skills with them which the country so desperately needs.

  • owen

    This applies to 80% of countries world wide. Toooo many people.

  • Candice

    Sadly I have had a similar experience with youngsters. Many I know are either leaving or considering it…

  • Po

    What about the ones who cannot afford to leave or who cannot acquire skills that are needed overseas? They are stick in a no-win situation.

  • Tess

    Employment is not a basic human right. Access to education to enable yourself to get employment is. If you choose not to get educated, you have no right to demand employment.

  • Bernard Hellberg

    The on-going payment of social grants to people so that they can breed in order to live is a crime against the ecology, society in general and the youngsters who are the real victims.

    They supply the voting fodder of the future so that the current kleptocrats can continue plundering.

  • Geejay

    More and more we are seeing and hearing discontent in the youth. Let’s face it they see the ANC as a bunch of Carpetbaggers who are less interested in the youth and more interested in their own particular and individual aims. This applies to majority of governments operating in SADEC at the moment. Unless they are prepared to address this in a holistic manner then something is going to give. If we look at the economy it might just be the accelerant that is required to unify these voices of “dissent”.

  • JMC

    One problem is that government cannot create jobs, only the conditions to enable more job opportunities. Sadly, this government has killed this with obscure labour laws. Employers are reluctant to employ more people because once they are on the payroll they cannot get rid of them. I know what it feels like to work seven days a week and sometimes through the night to meet deadlines because the employer is not willing to face the bureaucracy with temporary staff, feeling that he rather spend more on overtime payment than to face this annoyance.

    For years now there have been calls in parliament to slacken the labour laws. This will not only encourage employers to employ more people, albeit on a temporary basis, but they will acquire some skills in the process. In the long term the economy will benefit.

  • James

    I’ve just arrived in South Africa to work from a city in Australia. A relatively affluent town of a little over a million people.
    When I left the big news story in my home town was the governments refusal to put any money towards building a new sports stadium in the city to attract more sporting events (hopefully world cup qualifiers into the future, international rugby and to offer a 21st century ground for the cities Australian Football teams).
    The governments refusal was due to fact it had already put money aside to build a brand new hospital on the same proposed site and saw health as a far greater priority.
    On the weekend I had reason to visit a South African hospital and couldn’t help but think that hospitals here need far greater resources…
    I’m curious, how on earth did the South African government convince South Africans to spend billions of dollars on new stadiums around the country and not invest the money in the services your post talks about..? I mean, don’t get me wrong, having the world cup in South Africa is huge and it will be a great party – but aren’t there more important things…..

  • Mike

    This country of ours has become sick to it’s core. My wife and I are going to be birthing our first into this world and one of my greatest fears is the certainty that I will have to emmigrate merely to provide a future for my child. Here I blame the current and previous goverments. Instead of building a nation based on unity, progress, integrity and the rule of law, they have built a broken nation based on disunity, a lack of accountability and greed. Not to mention vilifying certain population groups to distract the people of this nation from seeing their gross incompetance. My heart goes out to the youth of this country. May God grant them the strength to endure.

  • Perry Curling-Hope

    Everyone has a future; it just may not be the one they would like to envisage.

    We have government intent upon redress and reparations based on the past, but such is that upon which they secured their mandate.
    You cannot redistribute that which you do not have, and a shift in focus from distribution of ‘the wealth’ to its production in the first place is required.

    If I have “housing, health care and employment” and “basic services” provided as my basic human rights, I have a basic livelihood, do not need to be creative or enterprising and don’t have need for much else.
    This is the dream world of the welfare state.

    Perhaps ‘the creator’ of our reality knew what he was talking about when he said “by the sweat of your face shall you eat bread” or some such.

    These justifiably disheartened young people would probably not believe anyone who told them a brighter future lies in voting for less government intervention in planning their lives, not more.
    The union bosses declare that “the market has failed us”, hinting at more intervention and regulation being required, which they do to serve their own political interests.

    It is these interventions of our social democracy which have plainly and utterly failed these young people, and ‘the market’ has been blamed whilst not being given an opportunity to operate freely.

    All of our futures indeed lie in their hands.

  • George

    I get surprised at this so called luck of opprtunities for youths. We should first look at how prepared are these youths in grabbing opportunities as they become available. I get amazed at how many bursaries are going unclaimed because there are not many young people who meet the criteria. So, the basics should be addressed. We are in the information age were education is is become world currency. So first one should equip him/herself with the necessary tools to make it in this cut throat environment. Dependency on govt to do everything should be discouraged. Govt should provide an enabling environment for people to flourish thats all.

  • Kristin Palitza

    @ThembaB: I think, unfortunately, these youth belong exactly to the group of people, who don’t have the means to emigrate. They are stuck, but perhaps also feel quite a strong loyalty to their country despite being in a rather hopeless situation.

    @Tess: Employment might not be a basic human right, but the right to work is. It’s quite unjust to say these youths couldn’t be bother to get an education so that they would qualify for jobs. In fact all of them dreamt at some stage of going to a tertiary institution, but weren’t able to for financial reasons.

    @James: You are quite right. The SA government should spend money on important things, such as health care and education, rather than waste billions on building stadiums that are likely to stand largely empty after 2010, in the vain attempt to bolster the country’s international image. Why did they South African people agree to this? They didn’t. We weren’t asked!

  • Siphiwo Qangani with kangaroos

    Your last statements in reverse, sounds like something familier on the otherside of Beit Bridge.

  • Siphiwo Qangani with kangaroos

    Your last statement in reverse, sounds like something familier on the otherside of Beit Bridge.

  • Positive

    I feel deeply sorry for these youngsters. My own son tried to get a start in England. With the EU in place the Turkish can work there at much lower rates than the South Africans. He had to return sooner than planned and now works for a very low wage. He is really trying very hard to carve out his future but I can see the despair in his eyes sometime. I know there are many more like him. They cannot help that they were born into a specific race. My heart bleeds for them.

  • Jon

    The government is held in thrall by Cosatu. Although they pretend to speak authentically for the poor, it’s humbug. Cosatu is actually a well-off elite: every fee-paying Cosatu member, by definition, is lucky enough to have a formal-sector job.

    Yet they spend all their energy fighting their employers and looking after number one. They will not countenance any slackening off of the country’s labour laws. They demand jobs for life and good wages but refuse to offer better work in return.

    Those Cosatus would, only theoretically, want all those unemployed and despondent youngsters to be as lucky as what they are but, in practice, if it involves loosening up labour laws by even a millimetre, they’d keep everything just like it is and to hell with those jobless sad-sacks. Those losers are not going to build their big dreams all over our precious government-granted privileges.

  • James

    Well that explains it Kristin!

    As a health working professional and a sports lover – I was a bit torn on the South Australian government’s decision for a brand new $1.7 billion hospital in the middle of town and to scrap any stadium plans – because the hospital it will replace isn’t that bad!

    After my first visit to a Somerset hospital in Cape Town, a stone’s throw from Greenpoint Stadium, the mirrored opposite of government spending priorities was obvious…but you say the South African public wasn’t consulted??

    Not sure what’s more of a worry..!?

  • Shelgrog

    Hey Bernard, well said. At last I have found someone with the same logic as mine. Vote fodder. The ANC will not curb population growth as the uneducated masses are their future ticket to keep power. Just look at the faces of these teeming people at political rallies. All they see is a demonstration of power by the politicians who dress in smart suits, arrive in convoys of expensive cars and are surrounded by people with guns (army and police). “You see, if you don’t agree with our policies we can easily shoot you dead…” (ala Bob Mugabe).
    Back to the faces. They stare blankly at the speaker who uses long English words which they do not understand but which must be right because the powerful man uses them and therefore I better vote for him.
    This will go on for at least 30 years in SA before they will wake up and do what the Zimbabweans are doing.
    Maybe the ANC will learn from Zim but it might be a double edged sword for us in that they will orchestrate it better than Bob and manage to keep power in more devious ways. On second thoughts we shouldn’t worry because they are so stupid and greedy that this will be their downfall.
    To all you young ‘wrong colour’ people out there. Get yourself a trade qualification (only 3 years) and the world is your oyster. You will be snapped up by the wealthy countries who are not developing their own trades people and the salaries are getting better by the day. Then you will come back to retire here after SA has gone through it’s demise and will once again be the best place on earth.
    There is a lot of hope for you.

  • Oldfox


    Please explain how one gets a proper trade qualification today in SA.

    In the 1970s, SA trained 30 000 artisans a year. By the mid 1990s, this had dropped to around 1500 per year. Artisan training (which had served Europe well for around 600 years) was de-emphasized, and SA went instead for strange sounding things like “learnerships” which were controlled by the equally strange sounding Setas.

  • Oldfox


    “…redress and reparations based on the past, but such is that upon which they secured their mandate..”

    I don’t remember the initial or subsequent election promises being based upon redress and reparations.
    The election promises made were about jobs, fighting poverty and of course “a better life for all”.

    While many previously disenfranchised certainly did get jobs, the already high unemployment in 1994 got far worse since then, and millions more today do not have jobs.
    It will be interesting to see what the ANC election promises will be for 2009.

  • Lyndall Beddy

    When PE was the pits of unemployment – the old government deliberately stimulated the car industry with direct investment and incentives.

    Imagine if the 66 billion rand wasted on arms we did not need had been used for direct investment in new industries and job creation.

    THEN we would have had a better life for all!

  • Shelgrog

    Believe it or not there are still technical colleges out there. What is happening is that the trades are becoming scarce and consequently the demand for them is increasing. Simple arithmetic and economics…Demand with short Supply = higher pay.

  • cbond

    The saddest part of it all is that people who are so disillusioned with the country and the government’s lack of delivery will still vote for the ANC in the next election.

  • Oldfox


    I know about the technical colleges. They do not train artisans. They give theoretical courses. Artisans get trained by being apprenticed to an established firm, where they get hands on training under the close supervision of experienced artisans. An apprentice in SA may spend 3 months in a year at technical college, and 8 months in a year getting hands on experience. In Germany, it used to be 5 days in industry during the week, and Saturdays at technical college.

    South African firms do not apprentice young people, like they used to in the 1970s and early 1980s. So we have a shortage of electricians, plumbers, motor mechanics, carpenters, welders……