/ 23 December 2015

Want to build South Africa? Help a young (black) person

A lack of quality education is conributing to the high unemployment rate
A lack of quality education is conributing to the high unemployment rate

Every year Trialogue, during its research into the corporate social investment (CSI) market, chooses a particular focus to highlight. This year, it is youth.

Yawn, I hear you say, we already hear so much about the youth and what they need.

But, the report concludes, “empowering youth with both quality education and skills development that lead to sustainable employment can help to break the cycle of socioeconomic disenfranchisement and is crucial for the overall development of the country”.

It goes on to say that while implementation can be “daunting”, if companies are strategic in their approaches, broad-based BEE can drive meaningful transformation in the economy, by ultimately “changing the skills profile of today’s youth and tomorrow’s leaders”.

How dire is the situation for South Africa’s young people? Pretty bad. There is not a single socioeconomic measure that seems to count in favour of the youth. This is how the numbers stack up:

Two-thirds of SA’s population is under 35, according to the 2014 census. StatsSA’s poverty line, based on the cost-of-basic-needs approach, is at R779 per person per month. But at R330 per month, the child support grant is the lowest of all government social grants. It increased by R10 (the lowest increase to date) in 2015. The parents of children under 18 qualify for the grant only if their primary caregivers earn less than R79 200 a year (R6 600 per month) combined or R39 600 a year (R3 300 per month) if their primary caregiver is single. In 2012, 32% of children lived in households where no adult was employed.

Living in poverty significantly impacts on young people’s lives, including compromising their access to quality education and healthcare, the CSI Handbook states.

Health figures, even just the headline figures, are not promising either. Of the 77 822 South Africans below the age of 35 who died in 2013, 10 962 (14%) died of tuberculosis, 7 890 (10%) of HIV, 4 400 (5%) from “other viral diseases” and 3 603 (4.6%) from influenza and pneumonia, according to StatsSA’s 2013 report on morbidity and mortality rates. 

White youth had the highest medical aid cover at 74% and, not surprisingly, the fewest deaths. Coloured youth had 18.7% medical aid coverage. Black youth had 8.8% medical aid coverage and a five times greater mortality rate than white youth. 

Although there has been a decrease in HIV infection rates among 15 to 24 -year -olds, loveLife’s Status of the Epidemic report found that 45% of new infections are among 15 to 24-year-olds, and HIV prevalence peaks among women who are between 25 and 29 years old. (Bear in mind, SA accounts for 17% of global HIV infections, yet has only 0.7% of the world’s population. This means there is virtually no chance for today’s youth not to be affected in some way by HIV. Even if they are not actually infected with the virus themselves, they will be required to help carry the social and financial burdens HIV places on communities.)

Substance abuse is another major threat to young people, particularly those living in poverty. Stats vary widely, but the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA) reports that children as young as 10 are experimenting with alcohol, dagga and cigarettes, many of them to escape the harsh realities of their lives. 

In the education sphere, things aren’t much better. Despite receiving R265.7-billion of the national budget (the government’s biggest spend in 2015), challenges persist.

Of the 1 085 570 learners enrolled in grade 2 in 2004, only 532 860 wrote their final matric exams in 2014. In light of this figure, education rights organisation Equal Education argues that the 75.8% national pass rate for 2014 should be read as 36.4%. 

In 2011, the department of basic education reported that 60% of all youth who left grade 9 did not attain any further education (compulsory education lasts until you’re 15 or passed grade 9, whichever comes first).

University entrants comprise 18% of high school graduates, but more than half of them dropped out during their first year, according to the Council on Higher Education. And while black students comprised 81% of enrolled students in 2011, only 14% of the black and 14% of the coloured university-aged population were enrolled. In contrast, 57% of white and 47% of Indian students of university-age were enrolled.

A lack of education is contributing to the high unemployment rate (52%) among 15 to 24-year-olds. That’s more than four times the rate in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2014, according to StatsSA, of the nearly 20 million people below the age of 35, 9.8 million were not economically active (children), 6.2 million were employed and 3.6 million were unemployed (using the broader definition that includes those who have given up on finding jobs).

The Trialogue CSI Handbook states that while the biggest percentage of CSI funding goes to education, partnership are “crucial to ensure successful CSI initiatives”, because a holistic approach is needed. “Whether these partnerships are with non-profit organisations, the government or communities, business has key insights to share, including private sector approaches to strategic planning and ensuring efficiency”, it reads.

It says the new broad-based BEE compliance codes, which require companies to spend 6% of their payroll to obtain the 20 points assigned to skills development, could make an impact. But, it is necessary for business to “adopt a comprehensive BBBEE plan to respond more deliberately to the significant challenges that many historically disadvantaged youth have to overcome before entering tertiary education.

What difference can a state intervention make?

At R330 per month, the state’s child grant isn’t a fortune. But it can make the difference between finishing matric and dropping out. This is the lived experience of two sisters, Jeaneatte (22) and Judy (17) of Koffiefontein in the Free State, as related in the Trialogue CSI Handbook’s section on youth. They have fended for themselves financially since their mother passed away from tuberculosis two years ago, and say they miss their mother’s nurturing and guidance most.

Financially, things have been tough, though. An uncle who is a miner sends them R500 every second month. The R330 child grant they get monthly for Judy is added to the R1 500 that Jeanette, who matriculated in 2012, earns working in a hair salon and cleaning homes. Their rent is R500 a month, and food costs them around R25 a day, although they sometimes get meals from neighbours. 

“It doesn’t matter how tough times get for us, it is extremely important that my sister finishes school, just like I did,” Jeanette told researchers. “I am trying to save as much money as possible so that when Judy has completed school, we can move to a big city and find decent employment. I think we can both be waitresses while we study part-time for the jobs that we really want to have.”