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DA calls on Zuma to back youth wage subsidy

Faranaaz Parker

The Democratic Alliance has held a picket at the Union Buildings and called on President Jacob Zuma to back the youth wage subsidy.

Helen Zille meets with unemployed youth after a protest at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

"The longer you take to implement the policy, the harder it will be to undo the damage caused by youth unemployment to our society," the DA said in a memorandum handed to Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Obed Bapela at the Union Buildings on Monday.

The memorandum demanded that Zuma "urgently announce the implementation of the subsidy", which he had committed to in his State of the Nation Address in 2010.

According to the DA, the subsidy could have benefitted 200 000 young people and created 80 000 new jobs had it been implemented in April.

"As the president, you have the power to break the current deadlock at Nedlac on this issue and instruct the immediate implementation of the subsidy programme. South Africa's youth cannot continue to be held ransom by Cosatu, who is the lone voice opposing the subsidy," said the memorandum.

The party said that the proposed job-seekers grant "misdiagnoses the problem". It argues that the problem is not that it takes too long for people to find jobs but that there are not enough jobs in the country.

The ANC flighted the idea of a job-seekers grant at its policy conference in June, partly as a response to submissions made by the ANC Youth League and the National Youth Development Agency.

The party backtracked from state plans to implement a youth wage subsidy following opposition from trade union Cosatu and others at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac). Cosatu has raised concerns that employers would fire older workers and substitute them with younger workers, who would be subsidised by the state.

Unemployment: A 'frustrating point'
Bapela agreed to hand the memorandum to the presidency.

"This matter is a frustrating point. Let's find a way of resolving it quickly," he said.

Bapela said that there had been "unfortunate disagreements" that had damaged negotiations concerning the subsidy at Nedlac but added that a "compromise" was being worked out and that further news on the matter could be expected in October.

He warned jobseekers that a subsidy alone "might not be enough to address unemployment".

Bapela said that the youth wage subsidy and the proposed job-seekers fund could co-exist as the former targeted the youth while the latter was meant for anyone who was unemployed, whether young or old.

Leaving poverty in a generation
Speaking to those gathered for the picket, DA leader Zille said that the party backed the subsidy for a youth wage produced by the national treasury under Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

"It's a model that will grow the economy and create more sustainable jobs because people are getting a foothold in firms and companies that are growing and expanding," she said.

"The budget of R5-billion is not being used just because some people in the Cosatu alliance don't like it," Zille said at the picket.

In May, Cosatu and the DA clashed violently in the Johannesburg city centre when the DA marched to Cosatu House to press the case for the youth wage subsidy. A number of people were injured and public property was damaged. The DA charged Cosatu with public violence, intimidation and illegal gathering, and Cosatu countered with charges of its own. The matter is still under investigation.

Zille said the DA was unaware of the details of the compromise Bapela spoke of but warned that if it involved another grant, like the job-seekers grant, this would "perversely" encourage people not to get a job because they would get a grant by being unemployed, and that the country could not afford this over time.

She said that if people were to get a grant, it would out of necessity be "a very tiny grant" but that a youth wage subsidy would allow people to get a foot on the first rung of the economic ladder and then work their way up.

"What most people want is not to get handouts, it's to make a contribution, they want the dignity of work, they want the inclusion of being part of an economy through having a job. That's what people want and that's sustainable," she said.

Asked how long the DA was willing to wait for the subsidy to be introduced, Zille said the question was rather "how long are young South Africans willing to wait because people have the power and the people get the goverment that they voted for".

Zille pleads for pilot
Zille said that the DA was "pleading" with Zuma to release its share of the R5-billion set aside by treasury for the subsidy so that it could run a pilot scheme that would demonstrate whether the programme works or not.

Zille said that the youth wage subsidy was "enormously successful" in the Western Cape, where, going into its third year 70% of people in the programme had gotten permanent jobs while the rest went on to study further.

"They've got their foot on the ladder," she said.

"This is one thing that can bring all South Africans together to give our young people a chance to make a life for themselves, to get out of poverty in one generation," she added.

The DA leadership addressed 423 young unemployed South Africans, each representing one thousand young unemployed South Africans that could benefit from the scheme over three years.

Tshegofatso and Tsholofelo Mosala, 23-year-old twin sisters, have both been unemployed since they graduated in 2009, one with a degree in political science and the other with a degree in anthropology.

"It's not like we're sitting at home and not doing anything," said Tsholofelo. "I graduated and for nine months, I went for interviews and I couldn't get a job."

"We believe the youth wage subsidy will empower us to get a job."

Twenty-two year old Thapelo Bantseke said he had been looking for work ever since he matriculated four years ago.

"Nowadays it's all about connections. If you have power and money, you can get a bursary or a job. If you're nobody like me, you don't, because other people don't follow protocols," he said.

Mother of four Elezabeth Munyai, meanwhile, attended the event in the hope that a youth wage subsidy would be able to help her 19-year old daughter find work. "My first-born child is past grade 12 and still unemployed," she said.

It's estimated that 50% of South African's under the age of 25 are unemployed and that this group accounts for 30% of all unemployment in the country. National unemployment is close to 25%.

When unemployment in Spain hit 25% recently, the Spanish finance minister called it a crisis of "huge proportions" and the issue became a matter of national debate.

Last month the socialist government of France, which has faced similar challenges in terms of youth unemployment, unveiled a €2.9-billion programme to subsidise jobs for unemployed youths. The "jobs of the future" plan targets 16-25 year olds from poor urban and rural areas.


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