To commemorate the brave stance taken by the youth of 1976, the month of June is dedicated as youth month to celebrate young people in the country — with June 16 used to commemorate the youth of 1976. This year’s celebrations were particularly notable, as South Africa celebrates its 20th year of democracy. The month has come to an end, with me wondering where did it go and what did it mean for the youth of today.
Makale Ngwenya, a Tshwane resident who recently participated in Live Magazine and ENCA’s youth debate, when asked what youth month meant to her said: “Youth month is just but a commemoration for 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 a caution since 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 a period of un-freedom since the youth cannot avoid poverty, unemployment and income inequality. The youth are falling through the cracks of social-welfare systems for example social grants are becoming the primary source of income for many South Africans in the absence of jobs … and we all know the problems of our education system — too painful to mention here.”
The National Youth Day celebrations took place at Galeshewe Stadium in Kimberley, the Northern Cape, under the theme “Youth moving South Africa forward”. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was tasked with delivering the keynote presentation on behalf of the president.
The 26-year-old Ngwenya, an economist by profession, expressed her frustration with Ramaphosa’s address saying: “Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa made reference to the declaration that was adopted at the presidential indaba on youth skills by highlighting that internship programmes within the state and the private sector will be intensified. Internships give youth skills, only partially solving the problem since both public and private sector employers are not obliged to retain these graduates. Many are on six months to two year employment contracts — those who are lucky to be retained, that’s good. But, what does that mean for those who cannot be retained.”
Her concerns are valid, considering Statistics South Africa’s recent announcement that “the unemployment rate among youth [aged 15 to 34] increased from 32.7% to 36.1% between 2008 and 2014”. This announcement was made on the launch of their report on national and provincial labour market trends among the youth. The report listed a high incidence of long-term youth unemployment and a lack of work experience as some of contributing factors in the variety of problems facing young people in the labour market.
She goes on to bemoan the subterfuge and obfuscation that clouded Ramaphosa’s address saying: “The youth employment incentive scheme, while it sounds like a plan — in the absence of many plans — we have not heard anything about how it will be monitored and evaluated. How are the outcomes of these schemes supposed to be measured in terms of their impact of eradicating unemployment?”
It’s disheartening to hear young people so disillusioned with the solutions being put forward to resolve the problem.