Born Free and disillusioned
Thirty-six years after South African youth died fighting for their right to decent education in the Soweto Uprising, the Mail & Guardian asked readers between the ages of 16 and 24 what their biggest challenge was, ahead of Youth Day.
The Born Frees have come of age in the era of the Rainbow Nation and we wanted to know if they still feel the sting of prejudice in their lives.
It seems little has changed. It wasn’t racism or prejudice they spoke to us about, but again, education and jobs.
Charlenie Govender complained that “the standard of education has dropped drastically with many of us being ill-equipped for the working world”, while Lindiwe Sibiya complained that her biggest challenge was being unemployed after graduating from university.
“They say our university doesn’t produce work-ready graduates but then again, we will never be ready unless we get offered opportunities to get experience,” she wrote.
Government, which is still tussling with its alliance partner, the trade union federation Cosatu, over the contentious question of a youth wage subsidy would do well to heed the concerns of the youth, who will one day cast their votes at the ballot box.
Over 40% of all young people under 30 are unemployed, and employment among 18 to 24-year-olds has plummeted by more than 20% since the end of 2008.
Here’s what some young people told us:
Bayanda Mazwi (17), Cape Town
I am an activist, leader and a comrade for an organisation called Equal Education in Khayelitsha. The biggest challenge I have faced in my life is the poor quality of education I have received.
In Grade 8 and 9 I went to a school in Khayelitsha with no windows, doors, chairs or desks. There were no proper [alternatives], no text books, no reading books and we didn’t have a functioning library. We also didn’t have functioning toilets in our school. Having a school with no windows and doors prevented me from going to school when it was cold and raining.
A proper functioning school would build my future … This situation has made me stand up and say NO to poor quality education for me and all learners.
Samantha Moss (24), Pretoria
The biggest challenge I face is the cost of trying to further my education. I am currently studying criminology through Unisa and find it a struggle every month to pay for my studies. To register for one module costs between R1 054 and R1 500, excluding your textbooks. And as most people know a completed degree requires you to have 32 modules. How am I expected to make a better living for myself if I can barely afford to study?
I’ve been told my whole life that education is the only thing that can’t be taken away from you, but I’ve figured out that money can definitely keep you from attaining one. I specifically chose this degree because I feel a can make a positive contribution to this countries major problem: crime.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela
Imam Mbombo (21), Cape Town
My biggest to challenge to date is getting a decent job with my degree. Suddenly a degree is not enough, especially in the humanities field. After graduation you realise that people with no qualifications but have at least three years work experience in an administrative position are more likely to get the job than a graduate with with no work experience.
Where am going to find a decent job to make a decent living if no one is willing to hire because of my lack of experience? Where am I supposed to get experience if no one is willing to give me a chance?
Lungelo Shezi, Johannesburg
As a currently unemployed pre-graduate in 2012, the biggest challenge I and others in the same situation as I’m in are faced with, is not just about not having a job but not being given a chance and shown the way in our respectives areas of qualification.
We need mentors who will take us under their wings and show us the ropes so wewill be able to go out there and be effective having learned from someone who came before us.
Our CVs are always the determining factor with experience being the biggest requirement and our personal enemy. Experience and know-how doesn’t grow on trees so where are we supposed to get it? Just give us a chance to prove ourselves.
Xolile Ntshudu (20), Port Elizabeth
In 2012 I think we are facing a much harder challenges then the 1976 generation. They fought for education and we are faced with the challenges of staying in school. Most young South Africans just don’t have the funds to continue with their tertiary. And the hardest part is even if you may get your degree your chances of getting a job you deserve are very slim. Employers are quite reluctant to hire someone with no experience.
What we need in the country is for the government to deregulate the business environment so we can make use of apprenticeships and earn minimum wages. In that way we can gain experience and have a little money in our pockets to save.
Nontobeko Nyandeni (21), Cape Town
Personally, I have no complaints but I feel like black people are struggling to get out of their mental “Robben Island” prisons. We must change our attitudes, stop feeling sorry for ourselves and get to work. Only then can we finally realise the dream of a Rainbow Nation. There’s only so much JZ and co can do.