Youth, GB Shaw famously said, is wasted on the young. Money too.
Since 1994 at least R1-billion has been poured into government youth development programmes, but there is precious little to show for it, unless you count the extra kilogrammes around the waists of the “deployees” who run them.
Youth unemployment is at its highest levels yet and, while broader transformation in our society has empowered some young people with skills and access to opportunity, there is little evidence to link their success to the organisations specifically set up to help them.
On the contrary, organisations like the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) have helped principally in creating a group of millionaire youngsters who surf their political connections to wealth without ever learning to do an honest day’s work.
Despite what you are likely to hear from them, the lock of money is not the main problem in youth development — rather it is the lack of long-term vision and capacity among those who are put in charge of large sums of government cash that hobbles progress.
The way the NYDA has run its affairs has suggested it was created to bring the politics of the National Youth Commission and the dough from the Umsobomvu Youth Fund together to make it easier to manage the deployment of the best-connected comrades, keeping them salaried and on the right side of the political line. It is here where that youth leaders and their friends find jobs, tenders and loans in return for their political loyalty.
Andile Lungisa, the NYDA chairperson who doubles as the ANC Youth League deputy president, can insist as loudly as he likes that the NYDA is a politically independent body but the facts speak for themselves. The only non-ANC member on the national NYDA board is a Freedom Front Plus member, but does anyone know who he is?
No, because he is a co-opted comrade, one who knows when to keep quiet about his pay cheque — not unlike his political boss, Pieter Mulder, the FF+ leader and deputy agriculture minister.
The larger parties, Inkatha Freedom Party, Young Communist League and the Democratic Alliance, have almost no representation on the national or provincial boards. And no one seems to ask why politics should be a criterion at all for representation.
We report today on money spent by the NYDA on cellphones, inflated salaries and dubious loans. Meanwhile its leadership is complaining that a R30-million allocation to stage what looks suspiciously like an ANC Youth League ideological festival is not enough. Big festivals, of course, involve big procurement and big splodges of wonga to spread around.
One way to stop the feeding frenzy would be to erase the word “deployment” from the youth leaders and replace it with “delivery” and to monitor and evaluate that delivery rigorously. This shouldn’t be too hard — the political head of the NYDA is Collins Chabane, the minister of monitoring and evaluation.
A more radical option would be to shut the agency down and dedicate its funding to the proposed youth employment subsidy. Real, productive jobs for ordinary young people with no political connections — there’s a revolutionary idea.
A call to action every day
The annual ritual of Sixteen Days of Activism was launched on Thursday. But perhaps it is understandable that many yawned and asked “so what?”.
The campaign is supposed to stir us to action, to generate new consciousness about gender issues, but the brutal march of empirical evidence suggests concrete action lags far behind the press releases. New statistics from Gender Links, for example, show that 78% of men polled in Gauteng admit to perpetrating some form of violence against women and that the majority of our society does not believe that a wife can be raped by her husband.
How are we to get fired up by the official “16 days” campaign so soon after a 15-year-old girl was humiliated by her fellow pupils at Jules High School and then had the humiliation compounded by the justice system, which charged her criminally for her participation in what may or may not have been a consensual sexual act. But beyond the well-publicised cases in the urban areas, in the Eastern Cape girls as young as 12 and 13 are being abducted in the name of culture and allocated husbands.
The practice of ukuthwala, which destroys the lives of girls, persists and is accepted as part of our way of life. Frail old women in both the Eastern Cape and Limpopo are still being burned alive because of accusations of witchcraft.
We are tempted to throw up our hands in despair when our government is so concerned about women and children that it allocates a mere R30-million for the department for women, youth, children and people with disabilities to develop programmes.
Few spoke out when that crucial department was allowed to slide into neglect. In the past year the number of cases of the attempted murder of children increased from 782 to 1113, while cases of children murdered rose from 843 to 965. But, while we’re tempted to turn our back on the whole thing with a cynical shrug, we won’t.
Former president Thabo Mbeki called for this campaign to be increased to 365 days of activism. That’s more like it.