Turf battles don't create jobs
South Africa does not have a mild-to-moderate unemployment problem. That would allow the luxury of traditional thinking, conventional behaviour and politically safe solutions implemented along typical bureaucratic timelines.
What South Africa faces is a crisis, one that robs individuals of hope and dignity (as well as everything from health to opportunity), while threatening to destablise society as a whole.
We can only assume that any group or party focused on scoring points off one another or protecting turf in the midst of such a situation is incapable of grasping its seriousness. That, at least, would be better than if they were acting with mercenary disregard, or were so convinced that they were the sole guardians of wisdom that they could shout others down.
This week, the streets of Johannesburg were the stage for a melodramatic showdown between the Democratic Alliance and Cosatu. Both were guilty, to various degrees, of ill-considered action and intolerance. As a result, blood was spilled, again, in the name of politics. Economic discourse was polarised, again; political discussion was racialised, again.
None of this created jobs. It served to illustrate only that, just like the ANC and the government, neither Cosatu nor the DA are fully committed to alleviating joblessness.
The youth wage subsidy scheme the DA was nominally championing with its march is a worthy idea. It could go horribly wrong, with young people exploited and tax money wasted as large companies ruthlessly exploit a new class of worker with limited protection. But predicting the future is a tricky business, the bellicose prophecies of the DA and Cosatu notwithstanding.
It could also work, or give rise to a new scheme, or simply serve to give young people the sense that their society is aware of their plight.
Our unemployment crisis requires that risks be taken, not necessarily on the youth wage subsidy specifically, but on a broad array of initiatives and interventions some may consider unpalatable. It requires the willingness to experiment – and be wrong – and rapidly adjust. It requires sacrifice, of both ideology and privilege. And it requires that risk and sacrifice not only of the governing party, but also of Cosatu, the DA and their constituencies.
As far as words go, it is commendable that President Jacob Zuma promised in Parliament to go ahead with the scheme to assist young people. The time for dithering and finger-pointing is long over.