Youth empowerment: A country imperative

UMsunduzi doing its part in ensuring youth development beyond Youth Day

THe relationship between society and youth development is complex. Nevertheless, it has been possible to describe a clear leitmotif in this relationship: the tension between, on the other hand, the belief in the strength, innovative changes and improvements of, and, the youth and, on the other hand, the fear of change and arguably, increased loss of norms. This paradox is not particular to South Africa, nor to the current generation of young people. It is the paradox that probably applies in every age and every culture.

Registering this point in her paper “An overview of Youth Policy”, Helen Suzman Foundation researcher Anele Mtwesi on images of youth submitted that It is important to be mindful of how a country views its young people. This largely has an impact on how it deals with its youth. “The country’s perception of its youth is an important factor both at the policy making level and as a view of how society responds to youth issues. The image of ‘youth as a resource’ prevails in periods of stability, economic growth and societal reforms. When youth is considered as such, they represent the idealised future, are the receptacles of the values that each generation transmits to the next, and, therefore, they are a societal resource which are given the best opportunities for development and growth.

“Youth can also be perceived with a contrasting image of ‘youth as a problem’ which prevails in periods of economic crisis, political instability, and when youth in society and in the media is presented as “dangerous”, “deviant”, “criminal”, “violent”. With this image youth is perceived as a source of danger or a period of vulnerability in response to which protective measures must be devised.”

Youth development is regarded as an urgent and complex challenge facing post- apartheid South Africa. Twenty-five years after the official transition to democracy, it is young people who are severely affected by negative socio- economic factors such as HIV / AIDS, high levels of unemployment, poverty, unplanned pregnancies and lack of participation in politics.

Policy wise, there is no doubt that South Africa is committed to creating an enabling environment for youth participation in policy formulation. As a result of this commitment to youth participation, the National Youth Policy Framework 2002-2007 was developed. While it was not prescriptive, the policy established national principles and objectives, and identified strategic interventions for national departments and local municipalities.

At the time (from 1994 – 2007), five main documents were critical as they gave guarantee for community / youth participation at local level. These documents were; the South African Constitution Act 108 of 1996, the White Paper on Local Government (1998), the Municipal Structures Act of 1998, the Municipal Systems Act of 2000 and the National Youth Policy of 2000. 

The Constitution states in chapter 7, section 152 (e), that among the objectives of local government is to encourage the involvement of communities and community organizations in matters of local government. The White Paper stipulates that municipalities   must work with all sectors of the community to build a shared vision to set goals for development. The Municipality Structures Act 1998, section 19(2) states that municipalities must annually review priorities and processes that involve communities. The Municipal Systems Act 2000, Chapter Three on the other hand encourages municipalities to develop “culture of participatory governance and must for this purpose encourage and create conditions for residents, communities and other stakeholders in the municipality to participate in the local affairs.

The National Youth Policy 2000 recognizes local government as a critical partner in youth development. The policy encourages local government to design mechanisms for the creation of youth services and facilities as well as identifying the needs and development opportunities for the youth. It spells out a number of roles municipalities can play in the development of their areas of jurisdictions including the institutionalization of youth development in municipalities by establishing standing committees on youth matters to sensitize council on issues affecting youth.

Secondly, by creating participatory measures to target the youth in general and disadvantaged youth in particular.

Thirdly, by engaging local youth organizations in development programs towards a developmental local government. Finally, identifying needs for local facilities in pursuance of youth development and through partnership with key stakeholders such as other spheres of government, youth organizations, private sectors and donors.

Beyond Youth Day 

There is a consensus that beyond celebrating Youth Day on the 16th of June each year, South African youth are faced with many challenges beyond this historic and important day in the historiography of South Africa. Currently the country has the National Youth Policy 2020(NYP).

The NYP 2020 builds on South Africa’s first NYP, which covered the period 2009–2014. It improves upon and updates the previous policy by speaking to the new challenges that South Africa’s youth face, while acknowledging that more needs to be done to address the challenges identified in the previous NYP.

The policy is informed by the South African Constitution, the United Nations World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and beyond, the African Youth Charter (2006), the National Development Plan (NDP) (2012) and various other policies. The NDP is anchored on the constitution’s vision of a prosperous, democratic, non-sexist, non-racist and equal society. By 2030, the plan seeks to create an inclusive society that builds the capability of its active citizenry.

On the other hand, based on NYP, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), through its Youth Development Program, placed intense focus on youth upliftment.  SALGA Youth Development Program provides a platform for municipalities to address five issues, namely:

       Economic participation and transformation;

       Education and second chances;

       Healthcare and combating substance abuse;

       Nation building and social cohesion;

       Effective and responsive youth development.

Explaining the association’s approach, Director of SALGA’s Youth Development Program, Mandu Mallane says that, notwithstanding 20 years of youth development intervention, the desired outcomes have not been realized, particularly when it comes to youth unemployment.

“To address these high levels of unemployment, particularly among youth cohort, extraordinary measures will be required’ says Mallne.

“As a developmental state, government must lead the charge by creating an enabling environment for youth development through policy and legislation, implementing programs targeted specifically at youth development incentivizing private sector participation in youth development  and ensuring effective monitoring a and evaluation of all youth development activities.”

During its 5th National Conference SALGA resolved the following on youth in Local Government:

       Establishment of SALGA Youth Commission

Establishment of youth business chambers in every municipality

       Provide capacity development for youth at all levels

       Advocate for youth direct support and activities

       Create platforms for youth dialogues

       Apply an integrated approach to youth issues

In addition to NYP, SALGA has been leading the development of integrated Youth Development Strategy (IYDS) 2020.

It is clear that the issue of youth economic development is not just a South African problem but a continental one.  Lack of youth economic development in South Africa is indicated by the level of unemployment.  Research has shown that youth unemployment in South Africa is staggering.  It has increased from 54.7% in the fourth quarter of 2018 to 55.2% in the first quarter of 2019.

The unemployment rate is highest among people aged 15 to 34, according to Statistics South Africa.  The picture becomes even more sanding if analysed along demographic patterns.

Furthermore, the 2018 World Economic Forum (WEF) report, The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa, stated that Sub-Saharan Africa has a global share of high-skilled employment of only 6%, in contrast to the global average of 24%.

It is forecast that with the impending disruption to jobs and skills brought about by the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) 9% of core skills required across occupations in South Africa will be wholly different by 2020.

There is a tremendous burden on the country’s education system to prepare school leavers for an uncertain future. Urgent reskilling and upskilling efforts are needed for higher education and adult learning curriculums. South Africa is rich in policy frameworks on youth development. 

What remains crucial is the creation of a transition from a sound policy framework to actual reduction of lack of youth development.  All these issues point to the fact that the country faces an urgent imperative for youth development.

Did you know?
The National Youth Commission (NYC) Act (1996) established the National Youth Commission as the statutory body responsible for youth policy. It was replaced by the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA),  established by Act No. 54 of 2008. The Integrated Youth Development Strategy (IYDS) seeks to streamline youth economic development, integrating policies such as the National Industrial Policy Framework (NIPF) with the National Youth Policy. The NYDA is also linked to the National Youth Service Policy Framework, which promotes youth volunteering as a way for youth to contribute to development, build skills and develop abilities. Both the NYP and IYDS are influenced by the National Youth Development Policy Framework of 2002-2007. In 2009, South Africa also ratified the African Youth Charter.

Did you know?
The South African Youth Council (SAYC) was founded in 1997. It is an autonomous, non-partisan umbrella association for youth organisations. According to its 2010 report, South African Youth Council: “Towards a Coordinated and Integrated Youth Development,” it is governed by a National Executive Committee comprising of Provincial Chairpersons and Secretaries. SAYC represents youth in forums including the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC), the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), and the National Skills Authority (NSA).

Youth Policies, Institutions and Legislative Instruments

National Youth Development Act (2008): The Act makes provisions for the establishment of the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA): This is an entity having resonance with youth development in South Africa. The Act also provides for the functions and objectives; management and governance; regulation of staff and financial affairs; and administration of funds in the NYDA. 

National Youth Development Agency: The NYDA is tasked with initiating, designing, co-ordinating, evaluating and monitoring, and providing oversight to all programs aimed at integrating youth; developing and integrating Youth Development Plan and Strategy (IYDS); developing guidelines for the implementation of an Integrated National Youth Development Policy and making recommendations to the President; guiding efforts and facilitating economic participation and empowerment, and the achievement of education and training; partnering and assisting organs of state, private sector and non-governmental organisations on initiatives directed at employment and skills development; initiating programmes directed at poverty alleviation, urban and rural development and the combating of crime, substance abuse and social decay amongst youth; establishing annual national priority programs in respect of youth development; and undertaking to promote the interests of youth, particularly young people with disabilities. 

National Youth Policy (2009-2014). This is aimed at closing identified gaps, addressing challenges and recommending new measures to improve and accelerate the implementation of youth policy under the following four pillars – education, health and wellbeing, economic participation and social cohesion. 

Integrated Youth Development Strategy (2011). The IYDS strategy identified challenges and opportunities for youth as identified by a cross-section of stakeholders, including professional bodies, government departments, civil society, NGOs and youth formations. This also involved drawing information from various domestic and international instruments, public and research reports. The objective of which was the development of an integrated strategy that responds to the economic structure as discussed in key national policy frameworks including among others;

The IYDS strategy identified challenges and opportunities for youth as identified National Industrial Policy Framework (NIPF), Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP), National Growth Path (NGP), National Skills Development-South Africa (NSD-SA), National Youth Policy (NYP), and NSDS III.

National Skills Development Strategy III. Aims to increase access to high quality and relevant education and training and skills development opportunities. These include workplace learning and experience, to enable effective participation in the economy and society.

Employment Tax Incentive Act, 2013: (“Youth Wage Subsidy”). The objective of this is to encourage employment creation and growth (especially in relation to young work seekers), and is a way of sharing the cost of expanding job opportunities with the private sector.

Youth Employment Accord:  Seeks to improve education and skilling of young people, helping them to find jobs or start their own businesses. As part of the accord, government commits itself to increasing the number of people employed in the public sector, while certain industries have set youth development targets. All parties (government, organised labour, organised business, and community and youth formations) agree to implement a coordinated Youth Employment Strategy (YES).