With unemployment remaining stubbornly high, young South Africans in particular have limited prospects of getting jobs, and their only hope of becoming economically active is to start their own businesses.
The latest data from Statistics South Africa showed that youth unemployment rose by 1.1% while nearly a quarter of a million young people lost their jobs in the first three months of 2023.
“Given the current state of the economy, it is important that young people look for other options outside of getting formal employment,” said Pat Mahlangu, founder of the Top 16 Youth-owned Brands awards, a platform which celebrates young entrepreneurs.
Mahlangu spoke to the Mail & Guardian against the background of June being Youth Month in South Africa, during which there is a focus on issues affecting young people. The country also observes Youth Day on 16 June in commemoration of the 1976 Soweto uprising when 100s of young people were killed by police during a protest against the use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in schools.
In a statement earlier this month, the government said this year’s commemorations would centre around the theme: “Accelerating youth economic emancipation for a sustainable future”.
The government punted how, under the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention, it had initiated various youth development and empowerment initiatives to support young people, ranging from formal education and training; learnerships and internships as well as support for youth entrepreneurship.
But Mahlangu said the main challenge for young people trying to set up their own businesses was creating a network of potential customers and credibility.
“[There are a] lot of misconceptions about youth-owned businesses. And one of the big misconceptions is that youth-owned brands will not provide a quality service or product, which is not true,” he said.
He said the Top 16 Youth-owned Brands awards were aimed at supporting such brands and making sure “that their efforts are seen”.
“These awards acknowledge that these youth-owned brands are contributing to job creation and economic development in South Africa,” Mahlangu added.
“What started off as an online portal that celebrates the excellence of brands has now become a platform where these brands are given a chance to shine and known throughout the country. Shining a light on the ones who dare to make a difference.”
Young people wanting to start their own businesses should be committed to ongoing learning and improvement, according to Marcia Monareng, the founder of Millennial Mindset Media, which deals with digital brand marketing.
“The business landscape is constantly evolving, especially in the digital realm. They must stay updated with industry trends, attend workshops and conferences, and invest in their own personal development,” she said.
Speaking of her own difficulties when starting her business, she cited establishing credibility and building a strong client base in a competitive market, as the biggest of them all.
“It was essential for me to demonstrate the value and effectiveness of my digital marketing services to potential clients. I had to work diligently to network, leverage personal connections and showcase successful campaigns to gain trust and secure clients,” she said.
Support for young entrepreneurs is available through such organisations as the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) which has a grant programme designed to provide access to financial and non-financial business development support.
“The programme focuses on youth entrepreneurs who are at intentional, promising and new stages of enterprise development,” the entity says on its website.
“Young people whose business ideas qualify for the grant programme, depending on their individual needs, will also undergo some of the NYDA’s non-financial support services, including mentorship, business consultancy services and more.”