President Jacob Zuma has told a Youth Day celebration in KwaZulu-Natal that South Africa has changed for the better since 1976.
"We have come a long way since 1976. South Africa has changed considerably for the better. We thank the youth for their sterling contribution to both freedom and the reconstruction of their country," he said.
Zuma said the government had prioritised youth development because the 2011 Census indicated South Africa was a youthful country.
"[The census] told us that for the next 20 years, South Africa will have over 14-million young people between the ages of 15 and 29. The number will peak in 2021, reaching 15.1-million."
Quality education was needed. The percentage of completed higher qualifications like certificates, diplomas, degrees and post-graduate qualifications increased from 7.1% in 1996 to 12.1% in 2011.
The percentage of those who had completed secondary or higher education increased from 23.4% in 1996 to 40.5% in 2011.
"This figure shows improvement, but it is still far from what we want for our country," the president said.
Sixty-five percent of the black youth was unemployed.
"Our education and development programmes are designed to correct these challenges."
Zuma urged young people to help in the fight against crime, drug abuse, xenophobia and other social ills.
"Thus our special message to the youth of the republic today, is that you must become an integral part of the struggle against all these cancers that are painfully eating our society," he said.
"We must fight the scourge with the same vigour that we fought apartheid and the zest that is displayed in our successful fight against HIV and Aids today." – Sapa