Build a sustainable future for Africa’s youth




Unemployment among youth stands at about 54% in South Africa — but this is a crisis which can be mitigated with effective entrepreneurial endeavours.

To achieve this, the University of Pretoria has instituted a free online course to all its students to encourage them to learn the basic tenets of entrepreneurship. They learn how to monetise their ideas, get their business plans analysed by business people and have their businesses incubated in one of three specialised business incubators. These provide coaching, mentorship and collaboration to help their businesses grow, a MakerSpace for idea screening, business training and prototype building and TuksNovation which focuses on technology-based businesses.

With the average age of the continent being just under 20 years old, and representing about 20% of the world’s population, Africa is able to make the leap from extractive economies to industrial and manufacturing outcomes. Extractive economies mean that industries from other countries are able to buy Africa’s produce and raw materials at competitive rates and then re-sell finished products back to Africa at a higher cost.

This is why youth entrepreneurship is so important because starting a business in and for South Africa directly benefits our society through job creation and economic stimulation. It is envisaged that an African continental free trade area and other special economic zones will enable sustainable, economic development activities.

The ease of industrialisation in Africa goes hand in hand with ease of reaching markets and transporting goods. The faculty of engineering, built environment and information technology’s research focus is on smart cities with smart transport. To support this, we’ve built the Engineering 4.0 building complex, which will be the only reference laboratory and collaborative, multi-and-trans-disciplinary research testing centre of its kind in South Africa. We’ve partnered with the South African National Roads Agency Limited and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research so that the research can have a benefit for all South Africans.

Together with transporting goods and creating a manufacturing and industrial culture comes the need for us to always be mindful of the environmental effect of our economies and where we can off-set our carbon emissions with innovative, green solutions. Just as our economic output needs to be sustainable, so too should our effect on the environment be sustainable. Ravaging the environment and the irrevocable damage that so many industries have caused is perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks of Africa’s extractive economies.

Food insecurity is a direct consequence of environmental damage. How we manage to create a sustainable, just and equitable access to food supplies, and food security that is resilient to climate change yet easy to implement are key drivers behind the collaborative and transdisciplinary research that happens at our Future Africa campus research hub and Innovation Africa @ UP.

Professor Tawana Kupe is vice-chancellor and principal of the University of Pretoria

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