Nothing for youth to celebrate


THE panel discussions will be fiery and earnest.The rallies will be full. There will be food parcels. The television shows will feature entrepreneurs from Tembisa and youth activists from Gugulethu.It is June 16, after all, and this month we will all say the sympathetic things about young people and make the right noises about their development.The one thing we will not say is that they are not stupid, these young people.They can see a hustler from a mile away.And if there is anyone they know is a hustler it is a politician in a tight suit, a smooth car and a poor grasp of the difference between truth and lies.Even as all the politicians preach about young people and their development, the youth have turned their backs on the political class.They have made their views known.Our politics have nothing to offer them.They said this in May when the country went to the elections, but politicians didn’t listen to them.Maybe politicians should listen to them now, when we are supposed to be celebrating them.In case you did not notice, May 8 was a mess.The young showed politicians – and our politics of insult, spectacle, fisticuffs and corruption – the finger.Out of the staggering nine million South Africans eligible to vote who did not bother to go and register to cast their ballot, most were young people.They turned their back on our democracy.A stunning 46% of this group that chose to not even bother to register to vote – a right so many fought and died for – are aged 20 to 29, according to the Electoral Commission of South Africa.Why do these young people not care for our democracy?It might be worth looking at the unemployment figures.StatsSA is one of our great institutions and more politicians would do well to read its quarterly labour force surveys.On May 15, Statistics SA said that of “the 10.3-million people aged 15-24 years in SA, 32.4% (about 3-million) were not in employment, education or training.That is implying that close to one in three young South Africans between the ages of 15 and 24 years were disengaged with the labour market in the first quarter of 2018.When I was a youth in the late 1980s and early 1990s they had a terrible name for people like me – young, marginalised, hopeless and unemployed.They called us “the lost generation”.Are we doing the same to this generation of youth?Is that why they have turned their backs on our democracy?Is that why they have decided to not even do the bare minimum – register to vote and perhaps decide later not to go to the voting station?StatsSA said in its report last month that the NEET (young people not in employment, education or training) rate, “seen in conjunction with unemployment rates of over 50%, suggests that South African young people face extreme difficulties engaging with the labour market”.As a country that has enjoyed democracy for 25 years we should be ashamed of how little we have done to turn things around.Reading the StatsSA report is depressing.Listen to this: “The burden of unemployment is also concentrated amongst the youth as they account for 63.5% of the total number of unemployed people.”The unemployment rate among the youth is higher irrespective of education level.The graduate unemployment rate was 33.5% for those aged 15-24 and 10.2% among those aged 25-34 years, while the rate among adults (aged 3564 years) was 4.7%.Just over 30% of the youth have jobs and about half of them participate in the labour market.Within the youth, those aged 15-24 are more vulnerable in the labour market with an unemployment rate of over 52%, an absorption rate of about 12.2% and a labour force participation rate of 25.6%.This is the reality of the youth celebrations taking place in SA today: 52% unemployment among those who are 15 to 24 years old.Is anyone saying Happy Youth month?I think the words we should be using are very different.I think that “time bomb” is a good phrase to use.I think “abject failure” is another one.I think shame is what our politicians – who chose to fight in their induction to parliament rather than engage in policy refinement – should feel.Thanks for the public holiday, but there is nothing to celebrate here today.Look all around you. We have failed our young and we can’t even muster the honesty to tell them so.Instead, we give them food parcels.

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