Ms Siv Hesjedal, CEO of the Eastern Cape Socio-Economic Consultative Council and
Advocate Thanduxolo Nkala, Advocate of the High Court of South Africa;
Professor Sibongile Muthwa, Vice Chancellor of Nelson Mandela University;
Honourable MEC Fezeka Nkomonye-Bayeni;
Mr Bamanye Matiwane, SRC President of Nelson Mandela University;
Dean of Students;
Students and Alumni;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Programme Directors, it is a privilege and honour to address you on this occasion of your University’s Annual Nelson Mandela Youth Convention. It is indeed a distinguished honour in this month of July, where we not only celebrate and honour the legacy and leadership of Nelson Mandela, but where we also pay homage to his youthful endeavours. I am also thankful to the organisers for extending this invitation to me.
We are living in a world of rapid change due to the dominant forces of wealth creation driven by technological advances. The continued quest for more wealth through harnessing technological advances is the catalyst for exacerbating the wealth gap. These technological advances in data processing, artificial intelligence, automation and robotics, for instance, create the risk of greater job losses and insecurity, growing inequality and mass technological exclusion. This continuous quest for wealth inevitability leads to distorted and unequal distribution models.
In 2018, the World Bank estimated that South Africa is the world’s most unequal country amongst 149 countries with a 63% income inequality rating, on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 representing the most equality.
Inequality, naturally, leads to tensions and upheavals in any society. Nature has that tendency to correct any imbalance in its systems. Social upheavals or resulting social revolutions or counter-revolutions, are a result of tensions that exist between various complex strata and converging factors in our societies.
A crisis would be explained as an abnormal event and logic dictates an intervention of some sort to manage the crisis. Unless there is an external force capable of acting upon the drivers of inequality or disrupting its motion, the system will continue on its destructive path.
The consequence of the unabated accumulation of wealth is mass exclusion, social upheaval and continuous conflict.
The past 25 years
In order to understand our future we need to keep an eye on our past.
“Pastpresentfuture is always now” so said our late poet Laureate Professor Keorapetse Kgosietsile.
In trying to unpack the significance of our past we need to look at poverty, unemployment and the creation and the distribution of wealth.
Our society is in distress and we need to develop a set of processes to arrest and change our social outcomes.
I am going to sound the alarm bells with a few indictments by citing some data. If we do not interrogate the data we cannot plan for our future.
Over 60% of young people under the age of 25 are unemployed!
According to repeated Statistics SA data, over 70% of young people who start Grade R or 1, never make it to Grade 12!
Many youth interventions focus on those in the formal sector and no reliable data is available for out-of-school youth. This group remains the most vulnerable with no prospects of further education, susceptible to high-risk behaviours and suffer from a general lack of wellbeing with no access to health or social services. (The South African National Youth Policy 2009-2014 published by the South African Government reported these observations.)
The former Statistician General, Dr Pali Lehohla stated at the Drakensburg Inclusive Growth Forum in 2018, that:
“There is a noticeable representation of learners who are older than the ideal graduation age in South Africa’s primary and secondary schools. Just over 12% of learners are not yet in some form of structured education by the age of 5. At age 21, there are more learners in secondary school than university and TVET colleges combined.
About 79.2% of individuals with no formal education were poor compared to only 8.4% of individuals who had a post-matric qualification in 2015. The major contributor to poverty among the youth is the lack of educational attainment.”
President Ramaphosa recently warned us to prepare for mass job losses. He admitted recently, at the University of Johannesburg (21-22 July 2019) that, and I quote:
“Government has done little to improve the lives of the majority.
Many more people are going to lose jobs. And they’ll lose jobs because of technology, globalisation, climate change and a whole number of challenges like low economic growth, as we have seen, in our own country.”
The President went further to reflect on the past 25 years of democracy, and I quote:
“Over the course of the last 25 years, we’ve thus been less successful in addressing the structural faults in our economy.
In the end, and despite significant economic progress, in the years leading to the global financial crisis, unemployment has increased over the last decade, poverty levels have begun to rise again and millions of South Africans remain excluded through lack of assets, skills and networks.
The fact that the unemployment rate among young South Africans is more than 60-percent is a national crisis that demands urgent, innovative and coordinated solutions.
And because more young people are entering the labour force every year, the economy needs to create far more jobs for youth than it currently does merely to keep the youth unemployment rate steady.
The brutal reality is that when it comes to youth unemployment, we have to run just to remain in the same place.”(Close quote)
President Ramaphosa’s remarks are profoundly frank and should be a clarion call to all of us to consolidate and come up with appropriate interventions.
The data says that our current trajectory is not working and not delivering the expected outcomes. Education is the key that will unlock our young people’s future and this will enable access to other socio-economic opportunities.
We can thus conclude that our past 25 years have not been such a glorious achievement for our young people.
I am not advocating that nothing has been done over the past 25 years! Mainstreaming youth issues has been a major achievement.
I am also saying, like others, that our interventions have not been able to deliver the expected outcomes. It has been ineffective and way short of the targets we set.
Youth exclusion remains disconcertingly high at present. This exclusion has a knock-on effect preventing access to other socio-economic opportunities such as health, culture and the economy.
This pressure on the economy is not sustainable and new ways of tackling these challenges have to be found now and implemented with the utmost urgency. Time is no longer on our side and we need urgent intervention and effective intervention strategies now.
We can only find solutions to this current youth crisis if we have a shared vision of what we want our future to be.
The next 25 years
“The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made, and the activity of making them, changes both the maker and the destination.” – John Schaar
If there is consensus on what type of future awaits us, then we can and must make preparations for that future.
A report by the World Economic Forum (2016) about the future of work, inform us, that
“By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.”
The World Economic Forum founder and chairman, Dr Klaus Schwab predicts an optimistic future where technological innovation – and our ability to harness it – becomes a powerhouse for social and economic growth.
Schwab describes how our society is entering a “Fourth Industrial Revolution”: Characterised by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, Schwab argues that these Fourth industrial Revolution developments are affecting all disciplines, economies, industries and governments, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.
Ubiquitous, mobile supercomputing. Intelligent robots. Self-driving cars. Neuro-technological brain enhancements. Genetic editing. Artificial intelligence. Big Data. Are but some of the buzzwords.
Schwab further suggests that the evidence of dramatic change is all around us and it’s happening at exponential speed.
The report goes further, beyond the disruptive challenges we face as a result of technological progress predicted by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and highlights that our global society faces formidable challenges in the form of climate change, population growth, ageing populations, antibiotic resistance and rising inequality, to name a few.
Whilst the actions of some nations would suggest that they believe they can sequester themselves from these challenges, the reality is that these “big” global issues, if left unchecked, will affect every living soul.
Furthermore, the report states that education and lifelong learning will be of vital importance to equip present and future generations to not only be a productive part of this new world, but also to meet the societal challenges presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the existential challenges presented by climate change and population growth.
Youth development should therefore take centre stage in preparing for the future. The youth constitutes the majority in society, and most of the social and economic challenges manifest themselves in this demographic group.
Youth development must be linked to the institutional frameworks of capacity building and inclusivity. The youth must be an integral and critical path of our inclusive growth narrative. The key to unlocking youth potential and inclusivity is EDUCATION.
John Dewey, 19thCentury philosopher, educationist and designer of the library catalogue system, said that:
“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterdays, we rob them of tomorrow”.
The educational system must be overhauled to prepare the youth for their future.
We need to rapidly expand our capacity to train and skill young people. All social partners need to be involved in this urgent task. We need to ensure that education is accessible to all. We need to look at the broad spectrum of training and skills development in an integrated manner.
There is a direct link between education, employment, poverty, and political instability.
The education system must respond to the urgent needs of our youth.
Education and lifelong learning will be of vital importance to equip present and future generations to not only be a productive part of this new world but also to meet the societal challenges presented by the technological advances, and the existential challenges presented by climate change and population growth.
We need a robust and radical shift in our current educational delivery systems. The new system must be able to:
- Employ new ways of teaching and learning where teachers are key to develop human potential
- Actively apply knowledge for collaborative problem solving
- Teach lifelong problem solving from Early Childhood Development to continuous learning
- Build capacity to absorb all youth and retain them in a new system where universal access is key
- Develop fit-for-purpose education models to break the low-growth and high unemployment trajectory
- Transform the system from mass production to mass personalisation
- Use technology to enhance the learning process
- Prepare for new jobs types in a multiplicity of disciplines
- Fast-track measures for improving the quality and relevance of education
Alvin Toffler in his book, Future Shock (1970) posited that:
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”.
As you know, the analysis indicates that in order to improve youth employability in South Africa significantly, a much broader spectrum of programmes is required.
Employment programmes must be flexible to allow multiple entry points of access, similar to education programmes that endeavour to retain and maximise youth inclusivity.
We must implement an accelerated artisan programme to support our industrialisation requirements. Our institutes of higher learning cannot cater for our economic needs to ensure growth hence new pathways must be implemented to stimulate our economy.
The New Growth Path 2010 and the Department of Trade and Industry’s Industrial Policy Action Plan 2010 (IPAP) provides industrial and infrastructural development opportunities in the following sectors:
- Agro-processing, bio-fuels, forestry, cultural industries, aquaculture, tourism;
- Nuclear, advanced, materials, aerospace, and ICT industries
- Green and energy-efficient goods and services;
- Downstream mineral beneficiation;
- New economies, i.e. green economy, knowledge economy, sport and cultural economy
- Spatial development sector;
- Infrastructure and services;
- Community health workers programme
- Social entrepreneurship.
Government is a key role player in providing an accelerated and enabling environment for youth employment.
We need a single vision and objectives.
Urgent investment is needed to develop Government 4.0 in order to use technology as a lever to deliver government systems smarter and more efficiently.
Youth service brigades, specialised work streams and teams must be established at community level. Infrastructure teams can be responsible for the construction and maintenance of public infrastructure and utilities.
Housing teams must be established to construct shelter for all and tackle the housing backlog including building of new schools, hospitals, roads and modern cities. These teams will explore alternate housing and construction methodologies and technologies in order to accelerate service delivery.
Arts and Culture, Sports and Recreation must be recognised as enablers for skills development and creation of massive new jobs in our economy.
In order for Government 4.0 and Education 4.0 or Industry 4.0 to work, we need universal access to data and reduction in data costs. Data must be free in all our education and government-to-citizen interactions in order to maximise our quest for access and inclusivity of all sections of our population.
The agriculture sector in South Africa provides a tremendous opportunity to unlock the skills and unemployment gap, amongst others.
Agriculture still remains the bedrock of our economy because no economy runs on an empty stomach. It is the law of nature that without food there is no life.
This sector remains controversial due to the emotive issues of land restitution and access to land. The sector plays a huge impact on social cohesion and food security for the entire Southern Africa. The transformation of this sector can change the centuries old patterns of possession, inequality and become a beacon of inclusivity.
The youth agricultural programme must encompass all facets in the agricultural value chain.
This will include traditional farming, agro-processing, incorporation of green and eco-farming methodologies, agro-tech and modern farming techniques such as vertical or hydroponic farming, logistics, management and marketing, to name a few.
The programme must be supported through the buying power of government departments, such as Defence, Correctional Services and Health, through off-take agreements in order to ensure sustainability. Government is an important role-player, as the programme will focus on social cohesion, food security, youth employment and building sustainable communities in South Africa.
Our youth implementation programmes must be based at local community level. Government must create the enabling environment with as little regulation as possible.
We already have a thriving informal township economy consisting of spaza shops, catering businesses, tuck shops, street corner vendors and homemade bakeries and backyard auto mechanics, to name a few. These township businesses thrive without any help from government. In fact, government normally interferes by over regulation resulting in some form of harassment.
The township economy should be the focus for entrepreneurship, micro-financing and alternate payment solutions using block chain technologies.
Economic stimulus programmes must be implemented at street level!
According to the Development Planning Division Working Paper Series No. 28, titled “Towards a youth employment strategy for South Africa” (Marina J Mayer et al, Development Bank of Southern Africa):
“South Africa cannot sustain the pattern of youth unemployment that has characterised the democratic period. Neither can young people continue to leave the formal education system with no hope of attaining an income, dignity and self-worth through employment. “
If we are to address the urgent need to reshape our future we need to be bold!
We are failing in our approach if we think that our repetition of the past will produce a brighter future. Our current strategies and trajectories have developed their own inertia that has become self-consuming. Unless we can harness an external force to break this cycle we are doomed to repeat the failures of our past.
One of the key barriers to youth development is the lack of a structured approach. Youth development is unstructured and based on silo mentality.
Youth affairs should not be confined to an agency. It should not be confined to a desk or advisor sitting in the Presidency. It must be an apex Ministry. Let us face it, all our noble efforts, policies, frameworks, structures and interventions are failing and failing miserably by not producing the required outcomes and addressing the underlining factors.
Our current structures and frameworks depend on a delivery model founded on a disconnected state apparatus. The implementation details are lost due to the dependence on multiple and duplicating layers of state agency. The hegemony of the state is stifling development and the implementation of a comprehensive and integrated youth development strategy.
If we have general consensus on what our next 25 years of youth inclusion should entail, then we can only achieve our envisioned future through changing our current structural frameworks of delivery. A Ministry of Youth Affairs responsible for implementation of youth programmes must lead it. It will ensure a more integrated approach. Budgets should be centralised under this ministry to ensure delivery of required services.
The Youth Ministry must be an apex ministry responsible for education, skills development and training and economic development. The structural framework must change.
The delivery of the youth outcomes must be implemented at the local level. Our monitoring and impact analysis must be done at this local level.
Service delivery will occur at local level. This Youth Ministry will be able to:
- Streamline and implement youth programmes more efficiently and effectively
- Integrate youth services and delivery mechanisms
- Reduce implementation timelines
- Rationalise and optimise current budgets
- Deliver youth services where it is needed
- Reduce government expenditure and duplication
- Prepare, plan, train, develop and employ masses of our youth
- Radically engage with youth and unleash their potential.
We must quickly move away from the burden of incumbency and address the urgent need of the country. We must embrace and celebrate an active and radical youth culture.
Let me end with one of my favourite quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. in a letter he wrote on toilet paper while jailed in Birmingham for having organised a march on Good Friday in 1963, he penned the following:
“When you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’ – then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”
Public officials, public servants and leaders, should therefore refrain from telling young people and marginalised communities to wait their turn and exercise patience.
I thank you.