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Letters to the Editor: June 22 to 28

Unlock youth power

Post–1994, a considerable proportion of previously oppressed South Africans have gained access to basic services such as water and sanitation, primary school enrolment rates have increased and, most importantly, the country is a vibrant democracy.

But, as the country celebrates Youth Month, it is critical to acknowledge that many young black South Africans continue to face a gamut of challenges, including unemployment and poverty.

The business community has to take on some of the responsibility for the urgent national task of imparting critical skills-creating job opportunities for them. It should heed the call made by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation address. Indeed, the nation’s fortunes are intertwined with those of the youth.

There are varied reasons for the private sector to welcome the president’s call. For one, although young people under 35 years of age constitute an estimated 66% of the population, they are more likely to be unemployed than older South Africans.

So, the private sector has an interest in collaborating in efforts such as funding scholarships and providing mentorship to improve the accessibility of high-quality education for the youth in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, for instance. Equipped with knowledge in diverse fields, young people can spur on innovation.

The mining, construction and heavy and high-tech manufacturing sectors are envisaged to experience job growth with increased innovation. They will require human labour.

Young South Africans, considering that they will constitute the majority of the labour pool, can only take up these opportunities if they have the requisite skills.

The youth, too, are potential consumers of all types of goods, from services to automotive and the property sector. But, without gainful employment, they cannot earn incomes that will enable them to transition from being dependants to independent decision-making consumers.

Considering projections of sluggish economic growth, which the treasury pegged at 1.5% in 2017 and rising to 2.1% in 2020, the youth are a potential market that can upend economic expectations. This, however, rests on their collective spending prowess, which requires gainful employment not only in established companies but also in small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs).

The Public Procurement Bill proposes to favour SMMEs owned by black youth and women in government’s purchase of goods and services. This, it is hoped, will transform them into successful entities.

The private sector can, in its own practices, further advance these tenets of preferential procurement. Obviously, efficiency and quality of goods and services should not be compromised.

When efficient and well-resourced SMMEs owned by the youth can supply high-quality goods and services to established private sector firms, this will spur on the growth and ability of these enterprises to create, when aggregated, significant employment opportunities.

The hope sparked by Ramaphosa’s ascendancy to the presidency is an opportune moment for the business community to commit to, and participate in, tackling challenges faced by young people. — Hamadziripi Tamukamoyo, managing director, Youth Development Institute of South Africa

Evolution and the school curriculum 

The ministerial task team reviewing the school history curriculum has this to say about the current curriculum in general and human evolution in particular: “The South African content offered to learners avoids controversial and problematic issues. This undermines the fact that a multiperspective approach is relevant in history as a discipline. As an example, we need to teach the theme about the origins/evolution of humans from a paleontological perspective; the African myths of origin and also from a religious perspective. Such an approach will address the assumption of seeing the discipline of history as consisting of an ‘unchanging body of knowledge’. The school syllabus, which avoids controversial themes such as evolution, entrenches these poor assumptions. This ultimately leads to confusion when learners encounter different approaches and different versions/perspectives of history at university.”

This statement is problematic. Firstly, history is more often than not controversial, from the reasons for the demise of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe to the relationship between hunters and herders, the impact of colonisation and land dispossession. These are all topics in the current school curriculum.

But evolution is not controversial. There is a huge body of scientific evidence proving that evolution is a process that goes back over four billion years and that still continues today. Appreciating this complex concept demands an understanding of deep time, how fossils form and are dated and how living organisms adapt to environmental change.

These concepts are far better included in life sciences than in history and at secondary school level.

Finally, it is important that African myths of origin as well as religious beliefs be appreciated and compared. Explanations provided by science and as narratives of belief cannot be presented as competing alternatives. There is a good place for the latter in language, literature and life skills. — RE Bergmann, Overberg

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