Youth Day: Are we missing the mark?

Mmanaledi Mataboge

As the country marks Youth Day, concerns are being raised that young South Africans are no longer as involved in politics as their 1976 counterparts.

South Africa's population is one of the youngest in the world with an average of 24.9 years, yet high levels of unemployment and inadequate education affected youth the most. (David Harrison, M&G)

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa will address national Youth Day commemorations at Galeshewe Stadium in Kimberley on Monday amid concerns that young people are no longer as involved as their counterparts of 1976.

In 1976, mostly high school students took on the apartheid government to fight bantu education. This launched June 16 into a day that dominated international headlines and a public holiday marked annually in democratic South Africa to commemorate those who died.

This year’s theme of Youth Moving South Africa Forward has sought to get young people to play a role in advancing the country.

ANC Youth League spokesperson Bandile Masuku told the Mail & Guardian that young people were not disengaging but rather focusing on “the task of economic emancipation”, which he said was more critical at present.

“We want to have skills, we want degrees and careers. The focus is now on a different trajectory compared to 1976,” said Masuku.  

A doctor by profession, Masuku said educating young people would lead to an improved South Africa.

“Our skills must help contribute to the betterment of society. The reality is that we face different challenges in whatever sector we are involved in, including a lack of transformation.”

Voice of the youth
Masuku did regret that the “voice” of the youth is as “not as well organised” as it should be. “The disintegration of the unity of young people is the one that is a challenge,” he said.

He added the time had come for the country’s leadership to realise that the population was getting younger. South Africa’s population is one of the youngest in the world with an average of 24.9 years, yet high levels of unemployment and inadequate education affected youth the most. The recent Census confirmed that most of the nearly 52-million people living in South Africa were under the age of 39.

“Our leaders still remain pretty much old, as if we are not a country dominated by young people. We must make sure that in the next 10 years we integrate ourselves well in leadership positions right up to municipalities.”

Masuku said for that to happen “there must be a conscious effort to prioritise education”.

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, a former ANC Youth League leader, said public agencies responsible for co-operatives and small enterprise development would be required to develop special programmes targeting youth.

“While there are small enterprises of young people and co-operatives in existence, the major stumbling block has always been access to markets,” Mthethwa wrote in the ANC Today newsletter.

Accessing opportunities
He urged the country to buy “70% of goods and services from South African producers as this will go a long way in opening markets even for young people”.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) praised the progress made in South Africa in creating opportunities for young people.

“Today students are not only taught in their indigenous languages, they also have access to opportunities to better themselves and their communities that did not exist before 1994,” the trade union federation said in a statement.

“Initiatives such as the National Student Financial Aid Scheme have gone a long way to address the imbalances of the past by funding education of the historically disadvantaged individuals. In higher education, 12% of the population now hold a postgraduate qualification up from 7% at the dawn of democracy.”

This year marks the 38th anniversary since the 1976 Soweto Uprising, where young South Africans demonstrated against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools.

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