The 2013 budget should have contained a bold commitment to offering all young South Africans some form of opportunity, whether in education, employment, their own businesses, or in National Youth Service programmes. Though we laud the minister for a sound economic plan and, specifically, for a reduction in spending growth that will benefit young people as we move into positions of power, we feel the budget was not bold enough in offering us real opportunity.
The National Planning Commission calculates that with the current trends on youth unemployment, South Africa risks having 60% of an entire generation not ever having held down a formal job. They call this a “time bomb” and “the single greatest threat to social stability in South Africa”.
At loveLife we harness the energy and potential of youth to implement our HIV prevention programmes. Our purpose as an organisation is building complete young leaders for an HIV free future. What we have found is that our country’s unemployed youth are a massive, largely untapped resource. They have energy, enthusiasm, idealism, and whole worlds of potential inside them. When we ask young people to lead our programmes as groundBREAKERS and mpintshis, the response from young people is vibrant, committed, and positive.
On the other side of this positivity, we see young people in Marikana, young people in De Doorns, young people in Zamdela, and we stand in solidarity with them. What else do we expect them to do other than burn down their communities if their energy, their potential, their futures are frustrated by the very structure of our society?
Though we had hoped for more detail by now, we congratulate the minister on his focus on the demographic dividend, and concomitantly the suggestion of tax incentives to promote youth employment by companies, combined with investments in further education and training. The private sector must ultimately grow jobs places fast enough to absorb the energy of young people, and this is a policy initiative that will hopefully create a decrease in youth unemployment that does not erode other jobs.
This initiative will however take years to take effect. What we need right now is the expansion of the National Youth Service (NYS) to all young people not in employment, education, or training. The failures of previous entities such as the National Youth Commission and the Umsobomvu Youth Fund to make the NYS work should not hinder the government from committing to what has been called in other country contexts “strong policy”.
The missing ingredient in the NYS is civil society involvement. Thousands of trustworthy and committed nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) across the country are ready and willing to take on youth service participants. The current NYS dispensation makes it very hard for them to participate in the programme, and yet they could be its greatest advocates and implementers. Successful youth service models elsewhere in the world allow for central government administration of youth service programmes linked to funding of nongovernmental organisations who serve as hosts to the programme. Though our colleagues at the National Youth Development Agency are amenable to this idea, the current setup makes it hard to implement, and only a handful of NGOs currently participate in the programme.
Simply collapsing NYS programming into the Expanded Public Works Programme is a grave mistake: it has taken what could have been our greatest tool for youth empowerment and converted it into a something which neither develops skills nor permanently affects earning potential.
Proper youth service allows for the development of youth leadership in the public interest - and that is the key. It is uncontroversial that our country’s future prosperity will be built on a generation of leaders that do not try to capture every material advantage for themselves. The development of a strong public-mindedness, a commitment to social advancement and community development, is exactly what good youth service programming does. We have seen this come to life in our own groundBREAKER and mpintshi programmes, and in the programming of other partner organisations such as City Year and Activate.
Subsidies to nongovernmental organisations of as little as R35 000 per service participant per annum could result in a revolutionised approach to youth work. For the R7 billion tax relief that was included in the budget, civil society could have created service opportunities for 200 000 young people.
Instead of creating a dependence on the state, youth leadership development sparks creativity, resilience, and self-determination. Our research suggests that one year in youth service doubles chances of employment, and triples the odds of completing a tertiary qualification. And that is under current economic circumstances, among some of our country’s most marginalised youth.
We could achieve even more if we combined the minister’s current package of reforms, including the tax incentive for youth employment, with structured youth service.
Senior Executive Manager: Programme Support & Design