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Gauteng Legislature convenes Virtual Youth Sector Parliament

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On 23 June 2021 the Gauteng Provincial Legislature (GPL) convened a virtual Sector Parliament, a public platform for the youth of the province to debate and recommend their own solutions to socioeconomic challenges facing them.

Through the Youth Sector Parliament, 45 youths engaged directly with the Gauteng Executive and policymakers, representing their peers from across five Gauteng regions. Debates and focused on innovative service delivery initiatives that involved the youth themselves.

As Gauteng and the country grapple with soaring youth unemployment, violence against women, economic exclusion and Covid-19, this platform presented an opportunity for GPL to engage robustly with the youth to solicit their recommendations on how these can be addressed.

About 150 youths from across the province were mobilised through regional workshops and formed part of the audience. The session was open to the media and the general public.

The webinar began with a silent prayer, followed by the singing of the national anthem. The members and various dignitaries were then acknowledged and the main points of the debate outlined. 

It was promised that the outcomes of the session would be owned and tabled by the portfolio committee, and the resolutions tabled in the provincial legislature. The resolutions made will be tackled by Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi; “we are putting our heads on the block”, said Matome Chiloane, Chairperson of the Education Committee. The youth will be kept informed and involved, he promised.

A keynote address was then made by Lesufi, who said that 125 000 health workers in Gauteng had been vaccinated in order to protect the youth. He outlined how the pandemic and lockdown has impacted Gauteng, which is small but has a large population, and is the epicentre of the third wave. He expressed his condolences for those families that have experienced deaths and said the healthcare sector is under immense strain; the legislature must be reviewed to ensure all institutions can best adjust to the pandemic. 

The youth are significantly less likely to contract Covid-19 and suffer adverse effects; they are less at risk and are resilient enough to fight it. But children must still be protected, especially as mutations in the virus are still occurring. Identifying hotspots is essential in the fight against the pandemic. The pandemic also brought into focus the “big black cloud” of gender-based violence (GBV), which is a “stain on the conscience of the nation”. The GPL will “leave no stone unturned” to eliminate GBV, said Lesufi.

He then spoke about how the youth need to become part of the economy and how education plays a critical role in this. The GPL is contributing towards this with its bursary scheme; there are also several programmes in place to upskill the youth in Gauteng and provide them with work experience. “This country belongs to the youth.”

Youth unemployment

Honourable Rhulani Baloyi from the Winterveld opened his fiery address on the youth’s challenges to health services by saying to the MEC: “we don’t need more lockdowns, we need jobs and services”. During lockdown several critical services were suspended; HIV testing was suspended, abortion services were suspended and family planning services were suspended. He said there is still huge discrimination against the LGBTIQ+ community when it comes to health services. He added that young people are depressed because they are not working, but if they go to clinics with symptoms of depression they are “made a laughing stock”. 

Baloyi asked, what can we do with the R350 grant? Things are much more expensive now than in 2015. There are long queues at clinics and hospitals, and sanitising is done by security guards; we need youth health ambassadors. He said that there is ineffective social media engagement from the health department and MEC. 

Next up was Honourable Noluvuyo Mogale, who advised the government to look into traditional African methods for treating Covid-19; science does not have all the answers for Africa’s problems. She said that youth employment was not at the core of the health department’s response to Covid-19. She said the effects of the lockdown are going to impact the youth in the long term; that the R350 distress grant was inadequate; and that temporary jobs are not effective. As the vaccine is not reaching enough people, the virus will be among us for a very long time. 

The presidential youth employment initiative employed 300 000 youth, but only for a few months; “we can only hope, plead and pray” that the contracts will be extended. The youth unemployment rate “is a pandemic in itself”. We need permanent and visible posts. Why are the provincial and national governments not investing in the youth, the future of the country? Many young people were excluded from the distress grant, and only 10 people were allocated to oversee the process of who qualified, said Mogale.

Honourable Andile Ramokgwatedi said the young people of the province have solutions to the challenges of the health department; most importantly, it must prioritise the employment of the youth, through an action plan. The national and provincial departments must co-ordinate their efforts on this.

Honourable Mbali Maseko said every challenge comes with an opportunity. If money put aside for the youth does not reach them, “we are creating a breeding ground for a youth revolution”. Young people cannot eat our speeches; we need to create actionable plans that will have results on the lives of young people. Young people are not looking for handouts; they want to serve. Covid-19 is deadly, but “the only pandemic that will cause a revolution is poverty”.

There were no questions from the audience, so the session moved to the adoption of this part of the report. It was unanimously approved. 

GBV

The second order concerned the health department’s strategies on GBV and the youth during Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. GBV was described as “the second-worst pandemic in the country”; many children have been affected by it. Firm interventions are required, and facilities must be made available to victims of GBV.  

Honourable Lebogang Tshomo quoted from Charlotte Maxeke to begin her address, and that said GBV, femicide and rape have their roots in patriarchy. Young boys must be taught not to rape. Many women are abused but cannot speak out because they are dependent on their abusers. Many abused women do not know of the support available to them; information must be shared in a better way. 

Honourable Abraham Mabelane said GBV is a profound problem in South Africa. There are many forms of violence against women and girls; the statistics are appalling. If your child speaks up about abuse, you must take her seriously. There are many programmes that help the abused. 

Honourable Tumi Motumi pointed out that there is not enough done by the government to change abusive men; instead the money is spent on helping those they abuse. 

Honourable Tseko Sebitla said many children are affected by GBV at a very young age, and programmes must be put in place to assist them; support must be given to programmes that already exist. The child is the responsibility of the community, not just the family; communal support forums must be encouraged. With the correct support these children can heal.

There were no questions raised on this order of the report, which was unanimously adopted.

Skills Development strategies

The third order concerned debating government approach skills development strategies for the youth to address unemployment.

Honourable Luyando Ndaba said the education system should be aligned to the needs of the country; many believe it is outdated. What can be done to prevent the youth from dropping out of school? The private sector must take part in the drive to upskill the youth. Corruption may be one reason that causes unemployment: if you don’t know somebody in the system, you don’t get a job. Young people are encouraged to open small businesses, but many were forced to shut down because of lockdown level five. 

Honourable Kabelo Khoali said we cannot solve the problem of unemployment without looking at its historical nature; colonial history still burdens us today. The school curriculum prefers black children to be labourers. The economy is owned by a few white families; radical economic transformation must be implemented immediately. The economy must be placed in the hands of the people. State-owned entities are meant to be platforms for economic transformation.

Honourable N Sindane  said many children do not qualify for tertiary education, but we are moving into a technological age that requires specialised skills. If we examine the matric results, we find that over 50% of young people are lost by the end of their schooling, and do not have the requisite skills for today’s economy. 

Honourable P Mthimunye  said it is a “miserable experience” to be a youth in South Africa today. This is because of our poor education. The economy of Gauteng only grew by 1% in recent years, far below the rate of immigration; imports are higher than exports. The province is also plagued by drug abuse among the youth. 

Honourable David Magate said the stats of youth unemployment are “staggering”. To resolve this, the youth must volunteer, to obtain experience. Local economies must be exploited, especially the township economy, in the same way that foreigners have exploited the spaza economy; suppliers for spazas must be found within the townships.

This part of the report was also adopted, seconded and unanimously approved. 

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