Youth vital for growing Gauteng together

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It is not enough for young people to be beneficiaries of programmes and policies; they must be allowed to act as architects of their own destiny. This, according to Gauteng Government’s Director for Inclusive Economy, Mathopane Masha, is vital to promoting inclusive economic growth and transformation in the province, while building a more cohesive and equal society that harnesses the potential of the young people who will drive it as the leaders of tomorrow. 

​It is for this reason that the Gauteng Provincial Government is putting the youth at the centre of its policies and policymaking, and is investing in human capital projects focused on youth entrepreneurship, education and skills development. “An example of this is how we actively sought out participation and input from the youth during the development of the Gauteng Township Economic Development Act,” Masha explains. “This engagement translates into programmes that are tailor-made for the youth, with their specific needs and concerns in mind.” 

Masha says the Growing Gauteng Together (GGT2030) plan cements the province’s commitment to radical transformation, modernisation and re-industrialisation, and seeks to ensure that the youth are not left behind when it comes to empowerment and opportunities. “The Growing Gauteng Together Plan charts our path to shared prosperity, and is packed with bold and expansive interventions that have been shaped and refined through extensive outcome modelling, shaped by both policy and programmatic experience,” he explains. “Central to this is the diversification of ownership patterns, and the facilitation of easier access for new entrants into all key sectors of the economy.” 

The Gauteng of the future

This, says Masha, is the path that leads to the future, and to a different, far better Gauteng by 2030. But what does that look like in practice? “It looks like a global city-region that has focused economic development and growth along equitable lines, distributed fairly to create opportunities for everyone, including the most vulnerable among us. It looks like a Gauteng that has seen unemployment halved from the 2020 level, and where job growth consistently outpaces population growth.

“It’s a Gauteng where crime rates are halved too, and where the process of building genuine social cohesion is a daily lived experience for everyone who calls this province home. In this future, we are not only a gateway to an integrated and more prosperous Africa; we are a global model for development. The GGT2030 is the roadmap we need to follow to get to that Gauteng — and the youth are integral to us achieving this vision.” 

Derived from the National Development Plan’s vision for 2030, the GGT2030 strategy goals will be achieved through creating Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in all five regions of Gauteng, promoting Gauteng as a trade and investment destination, developing economic and tourism infrastructure, and finally, revitalising and developing the township economy. 

Inclusive township economy to transform Gauteng economy 

Gauteng Premier David Makhura says the Gauteng Township Economic Development Act, which he signed into action earlier this year, is already making an impact: “Entrepreneurs, especially young entrepreneurs, have experienced many challenges, and as government we have a responsibility — a duty — to support them as they work towards their dreams and realise their full potential. The economic development of our townships is one of the drivers that will transform Gauteng and the lives of its residents, bringing us to a growth rate of more than 3.5% and decreasing unemployment in the province by 20% by 2030.”

The Act requires the provincial government to spend 40% of its procurement budget with township-based enterprises, and aims to transform townships into bustling commercial zones. 

Masha says: “Townships and informal settlements continue to represent the lived realities of one of the most unequal societies on the planet, and the youth often carry the brunt of these inequities and inequalities. These are the people we need to include; these are the regions we need to empower.”

He says an inclusive economy is one where all members of society can participate in and benefit from economic activities: “Traditional funding systems exclude many people in a number of communities, for example, and this means the criteria for inclusivity should accommodate these people as well; as a result, any positive change in the economy becomes inclusive.” 

Young people comprise the largest portion of the province’s population of 15-million residents and have always been centre-stage when it comes to the development or restructuring of the province’s economy, Masha says. Their continued  inclusion has to be fostered and nurtured for the province to benefit from the demographic dividend that comes with a younger population.  “The Township Development initiatives also focus a lot on the youth, who are grappling with limited job opportunities, skills mismatches and funding challenges for their businesses.” 

Unique challenges and opportunities

While the youth make up the largest demographic in the province, this is not the only reason to invite them to the table: “Yes, they are in the majority in the province and they represent future leaders in our economy, but young people also have a lot of brilliant and unconventional ideas that have the potential to change our future for the better. And of course, young people bring positivity, which must be matched with a supportive environment if we want them to unleash their ideas and contribute towards job creation and the development of new technology solutions.” 

When it comes to inclusive economic development and youth participation, there are still many challenges to overcome. “High costs and lack of access to information remain a challenge, and we see a skills mismatch when it comes to the demands of the market,” he explains. “There is also an experience  conundrum — young people do not have market requirements for certain jobs and are often excluded from business funding opportunities due to lack of experience.” 

These obstacles, says Masha, are not insurmountable: “Young people should be skilled to stand on their own and channelled towards income-earning pathway opportunities, especially in sectors that are likely to grow in the future. Young people should also be given a supportive environment to experiment, nurture and commercialise their ideas. We must also facilitate access to funding for youth enterprises, which is why Gauteng has established the Township Partnership Fund that prioritises youth-owned enterprises.” 

Government is also collaborating with the private sector to increase investment in areas that will enable the success of these enterprises. “This includes investment in broadband infrastructure in historically under-serviced communities, as well as alternative energy solutions, such as microgrids, in townships,” he says. “Along with training, which will be critical, we hope that these interventions will provide the youth with reliable and affordable internet access and energy, which can springboard their success in business and enable them to tap into the technology opportunity spectrum.” 

A focus on high-growth sectors and beyond

In addition to the focus on10 high-growth priority sectors, MEC for Economic Development Parks Tau says the Gauteng city-region is taking the lead in the implementation of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP). “The Economic Recovery Skills Strategy outlines interventions to meet the skills requirements for the ERRP, including those to be implemented through the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention,” he explains. “These interventions include targeted skills programmes, adaptation of TVET programmes, access to work integrated learning and upskilling and reskilling to preserve jobs that would otherwise be lost.” 

This is facilitated by embedding skills planning into sectoral processes. “This is why we invite all partners, from the private sector, organised labour, civil society, individual citizens, and especially the youth, to walk this journey with us and pave the way by making use of the opportunities that exist,” says Tau.  

Masha says the youth must also make use of the spaces for empowerment and self-betterment that exist, and must look to government programmes to see where there are gaps to be filled: “There are opportunities in the maintenance and repair of mobile devices and electronics, last mile delivery, manufacturing, construction, global business services, and agro-processing, which include new sectors like cannabis,” he explains. “There is also a focus on arts and the creative economy and the gig economy, and green energy and waste solutions remain a priority, both for the province and for the country.” 

He urges young people to get involved in actively forging the future that they want: “Government is looking for new innovative ideas that can contribute positively towards building our country, and in the process create new jobs, but we can’t do it alone.” 

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