Youth Capital is a youth-led advocacy campaign to reduce youth unemployment by promoting the implementation of an action plan. Some of the young people in the Youth Capital network decided to share their stories about what is holding them back on the road to employment.
Social capital helps when looking for work
My name is Lebogang Ditsebe and I’m 25 years old from Kimberley. I have been looking for stable employment for around two years — like any other young person does. I know that other young people like me are unemployed, and I often think about the fact that to look for work effectively, one needs to know how to do that: knowing who to approach for work opportunities, and which company to apply for.
I don’t have anyone to ask for advice. Even though young people have their qualifications in place, it can be hard to navigate how to look for work, especially if your social network is limited, and you have few options.
Currently, I use my time volunteering with different projects related to youth development — I find that helps me meet new people and make my circle bigger. When I reap benefits, I share those with my friends too. I run an Opportunities Desk on WhatsApp, where I share job opportunities that I see in my circle — and that is how I choose to pay it forward.
It’s hard not to feel disillusioned and hopeless about seeking employment and training opportunities, especially when you’re facing abject poverty in your community, and when your family and loved ones are counting on you to succeed.
Meanwhile, I always feel confused when new stats on youth unemployment are released as I feel like we’re living in a country that is not built for young people.
And for that reason, I feel that we as young people are being left behind, and drastically excluded from decision-making tables — which will accelerate youth empowerment and employment. More so, the missing conversations on our television screens and in newspapers is the actual plan and commitment by the South African government and partners in terms of how they will address youth unemployment, besides listing the statistics of youth unemployment. As if we as young people do not have names. And sadly, the statistics that we see and read about are the reality that each and every young South African observes.
A statement of results is not enough
My name is Kananelo Khoetsa, I am 29 years old and I live in Qwa-Qwa. I currently hold a bachelor degree in politics and sociology. I didn’t receive any career guidance while in school and after matriculating in 2010, I studied biomedical technology at Vaal University of Technology (VUT). Throughout my time at VUT, I was self-funded. My mother, a single parent of two, works for the municipality and we were led to believe that government employees’ children do not qualify for NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) funding.
Having determined that biomedical technology was not a field I would excel in post-qualification, I moved on to study towards a bachelor in politics and sociology at Nelson Mandela University. By then, former president Jacob Zuma had declared free education and I believed I could further my studies and be funded, but this was unfortunately not the case; NSFAS only funded for my first year at Nelson Mandela University (NMU).
I learned this when I was set to receive my second-year exam results, and I was informed that my funding had been revoked due to the N+2 rule. The N+2 rule states that a student shall be funded by NSFAS for the total number of years of their selected course plus two years. This puzzled me, as I was only funded my first year in NMU. Further queries led me to learn that NSFAS had redefined the rule to include all individuals who had been in school for the set years +1 more year, now named the N+1 rule.
I appealed to NSFAS, and I was once again accepted, except during my last year when my funding was once again revoked because of the same rule. Fortunately, I received my allowances and accommodation acceptance throughout my two years. I do, however, have a large debt that I owe the institution. With this debt, I cannot obtain my official certificates, and employers don’t accept a statement of result.
Not only am I unemployed, but I also form part of the “not in education, employment or training (Neet)” group. I feel stagnant, I feel like I have invested a lot of my time and resources in an education in which I’m not getting my return on investment. I have limited to no resources to help actualise my dreams, be it capital to start a business or simply money to secure employment. I currently stay in a rural area that is underdeveloped, and my opportunities are immensely limited.
I could consider a move to a city, but I also don’t have the resources such as first-month rent deposit, food and transport money; that’s if I’ll even secure money to get to the city in the first place. I mostly find myself demotivated and exasperated. That’s on good days. Bad days I feel helpless. I have over the months watched my self-esteem and mental health deteriorate.
Work experience is a roadblock
My name is Balindile, and I am 23 years old from Hazyview, Mpumalanga. The youth unemployment dilemma hit me in 2020, in the final year of my degree in geography and environmental management at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I had heard about unemployment being an issue for young people, but I hadn’t experienced it, until then.
I decided to look for unpaid volunteer work or internships to gain experience, but I couldn’t find any opportunities.
Some employers mentioned that they weren’t taking on new people because of the lockdown regulations. Internships in line with my degree required me to have work experience or to be enrolled into a master’s degree. Internships were initially meant to give graduates work experience but now the competition is so high that to stand out you need more experience, or be more qualified than the other candidates.
Junior jobs ask for work experience, but where can I get the experience when I can’t find any opportunity or entry points, including unpaid volunteer work? I could apply for a master’s but most internships have age requirements; I am not getting any younger and I am scared of being told that I am overqualified — with a master’s degree that I cannot afford when education is not free.
I also have friends who have been retrenched and that made it all real for me that jobs are scarce and facing unemployment is stressful, sad, draining and daunting. From personal experience, I can fully say that unemployment is one of the main contributors to mental health issues among us as young people.
My name is Thabo Buthelezi, I am 23 years old from Sebokeng, Gauteng. I am currently studying electrical engineering at Sedibeng Technical Vocational Education and Training College. I wouldn’t really say that the youth unemployment figures surprised me because three out of five young people around me are at home doing nothing.
I think that lack of support is one of the reasons why young people in my area don’t have the skills and opportunities to find employment. Young people also lack information on how to complete their education, how to choose their careers, and how to find work. This is why I started my nonprofit organisation, Shadow.
Shadow runs an intervention programme to assist high school learners who are struggling at school and those who just want to improve their marks. When I started Shadow I had a vision to close the gap in the education sector, with regard to underperforming pupils.
Learners that need assistance are pushed through, and they end up dropping out of school. Leaving school without a certification makes it difficult for them to find employment, or to even further their studies to increase their chances of employment.