South Africa’s crisis of youth unemployment, access to quality education, gender-based violence (GBV) and substance abuse took centre stage on Wednesday during the National Assembly’s debate on Youth Day.
MPs held the debate under the theme “promoting sustainable livelihoods and resilience of young people in SA for a better tomorrow”.
The debate was ahead of Youth Day on Wednesday to commemorate the Soweto youth uprising of 16 June 1976.
Young people’s will and determination
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MP Naledi Chirwa laid the blame squarely on the ANC government for young people’s challenges in the country.
She called on the youth to have the spirit and determination of the class of 1976 to confront the government like the youth of 1976 did against the National Party.
“All the power, stolen monies, and guns they use to murder those who fight the status quo will eventually mean absolutely nothing when confronted by the will and determination of young people.
“It is by design that we are poor, it is intentional that we are unemployed, and it is not a coincidence that our communities are infested with crime and violence. It is not by mistake that we have been overcome by drugs,” Chirwa said.
The United Democratic Movement (UDM) lamented the staggering figure of 63.9% of young people who are unemployed.
According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for the first quarter of 2022, the youth unemployment rate was 63.9% for those aged 15 to 24 and 42.1% for those aged 25 to 34 years. The official national rate stood at 34.5%.
UDM MP Nqabayomzi Kwankwa said the dawn of democracy in 1994 was supposed to be the turning point in the empowerment of oppressed citizens, however, the youth continued to experience a “great deal of oppression” under a black-led government.
“In fact, as it stands, youth unemployment has reached alarming proportions as it stands at almost 70%.
“The government has failed dismally to prioritise youth employment and the labour market, as we know, does not create enough job opportunities,” he said.
Kwankwa said government should prioritise job creation by reopening closed firms to strengthen local production and to support black industrialists.
“Government must encourage small business and support start-ups to create more jobs for young people.”
‘ANC is destroying South Africa’
Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Luyolo Mphithi said he was not going to bemoan the ANC government’s failures to address the issues of young people.
“We all know that the ANC is destroying South Africa. We all know that we are facing perhaps the most difficult times as young people in this country.
“Each and every year the lives of young people in this country get worse and worse,” Mphithi said.
Mphithi said the ANC failed young entrepreneurs through bureaucratic legislation, adding that many youths were even considering leaving the country for greener pastures elsewhere.
“Today I would rather talk about how we as the youth can turn the situation around.
“I believe the power to turn this around is in our hands as young people. We can propose a reimagined society of opportunity and reclaim our democracy.”
Young people’s quality of life
ANC MP Sibusiso Kula spoke glowingly about the government’s efforts to address the challenges of youth development.
He said that in 46 years since the 1976 uprising, young people in South Africa were far better off than during the apartheid days in terms of access to education and opportunities.
“Our youth today have got jobs that in the past were preserved for white people.
“We have young people in mining, construction, Information and Communications Technology, and agriculture and manufacturing,” Kula said.
He said the youth were thriving in sports, arts and culture and entertainment, but more still needed to be done to improve the quality of life of young people.
Kula also said the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), which has been criticised for not proactively addressing the challenges of youth development, was “punching above its weight”.
“Many young people have been assisted to either start or grow their businesses. The NYDA has opened many regional offices across the country to make it easier for young people to access the agency,” he said.