SONA 2024 needed a youth reality check
By: Onyi Nwaneri, Deputy CEO of Afrika Tikkun Group
In what may be his last State of the Nation Address (SoNA) depending on the outcomes of the imminent National Elections, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech appears to be an early celebration of anti-corruption reforms, downplaying the effect of state capture on youth development, education and empowerment in South Africa (SA), a leading youth development organisation says. During his address, Ramaphosa told the hypothetical success story of Tinswalo, a young girl who overcame generational inequality and poverty thanks to the services and opportunities provided by the government throughout her life.
“The reality in the communities we serve, is that for every Tinswalo, there are millions of children and young people still let down by the systems in which they are told to place their hope. Corruption, state capture and ethical erosion in private and public institutions have hindered what would otherwise be sound youth development policies,” says Onyi Nwaneri, Deputy CEO of Afrika Tikkun Group.
“While progress has been made, so much more needs to be done. SA is nowhere near resolving the ceaseless triple challenges of poverty, inequality, and unemployment,” says Nwaneri.
In his speech, Ramaphosa lauded the success of initiatives such as the youth Employment Tax Incentive (ETI), the Skills Development Levy (SDL), the National Skills Fund (NSF), the Youth Employment Service (YES) and the National Youth Services Programme, but this is against the devastating backdrop of 4,6 million unemployed youth (43,4%) in the country.
Private-Public partnerships are the new frontier in youth and economic development
“We applaud the efforts of private-public partnerships and initiatives that have ensured that young people gain access to skills and employment opportunities, but there is scope to broaden these initiatives,” Nwaneri says. Afrika Tikkun proposes mandating that final year students transition to a one-year youth service immediately after graduating, deployed according to qualification across Private, Public and Civil Society Organisations to add value, gain work experience and fight for a chance to be absorbed within the year of service in whatever organisation they are placed, earning at least minimum wage during this period. By exploring a collaborative/partnership approach with all sectors of society (Private, Public and Civil Society) enabling other actors to play a larger role in the development of policies and initiatives to end unemployment, SA can get closer to solving the skills gap challenges in the country.
Corruption, accessibility and lack of infrastructure impede youth education and employment
Funds intended for infrastructural and youth development programmes have historically disappeared through corrupt practices, negatively affecting those battling to get quality education when there is no electricity or a tender for chairs for classrooms gets misappropriated.
“In the day and age of digitisation, solvable infrastructural challenges are hampering access to quality information and affordable internet connection. Reliable infrastructure is going to be the deciding factor in how fast we can close the gaps that are allowing our youth to fall through the cracks of a broken education system” says Nwaneri. Reliable Universal broadband, as was promised at least a decade ago, would help alleviate the need for children to walk many kilometers to school, and enable them to finish their secondary education she adds. Although this year’s matric results were positive and deserve to be celebrated, SA’s education and literacy rates are not globally competitive, and the current education system is not producing quality graduates whose skill level matches industry demand. “Our workforce is not competitive in the global arena,” highlights Nwaneri.
As a result, the country is producing wealth at a rate that is far below its potential to the detriment of millions of young people who deserve a fighting chance at becoming productive, self-sufficient members of society. “We need to change our attitudes towards education, skills development and work experience, placing a focus on potential. Skill providers need to consult more with employers in the private sector to ensure they are enabling skills that match the needs of the market, locally and globally,” Nwaneri argues. Employers needs to change mindsets, attitudes and hiring practices especially in relation to youth. Focus should be on whether the prospective hire has the requisite skills, values alignment and are likely to add value to the company. The rest will follow.
SA must collaborate and rebuild the country we call home
As the country braces for a watershed election year, Afrika Tikkun urges South Africans at large to hold private and public institutions accountable, speaking out against corruption and the dereliction of the systems built to secure constitutional democracy.
“Every individual, institution, organisation, and community have a responsibility to rebuild a country we are proud of. We are all builders of a country, the collective calls home. The time is now to embrace our role and to restore our beautiful country, and its children and youth, to their rightful place in the global economy,” Nwaneri concludes.
For more information go to www.AfrikaTikkun.org.