Unemployed youth weigh in on youth unemployment

According to the expanded definition of employment, men touting for work on a roadside are not unemployed. Photo by Sharon McKinnon

Described as a ticking time bomb by analysts, youth unemployment is one of the biggest problems facing the country. We went to find the faces behind the statistics.

Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa

Economic policies, nepotism, lack of skills and corruption are some of the reasons given by young people for the soaring levels of youth unemployment in the country.

A study done by Trading Economics states that the South African youth unemployment rate increased from 51.10 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017 to 52.40 percent in the first quarter of 2018.

“The country still has an unacceptably high number of young people who are not in education, employment, or training,” according to the National Youth Policy 2020 established by the National Youth Commission Act of 1996. “Civil society has also played a limited role in youth development, largely due to lack of funding and loss of leadership to government and sectors that remunerate better.”

The policy also points to a lack of proper education and skilled-based learning in the South African schooling system, with only 47 percent of 22 to 25-year-olds having completed Grade 12.

Youth unemployment has remained constant from 2013 to 2018, with an average of 51.93 percent.

Elitsha went to the streets of Khayelitsha to ask young people about the reasons for high youth unemployment in the country.

Unemployed youth views on unemployment

Phumeza Pawuti last worked in the Extended Public Works Programme in August 2017. She told Elitsha that she is unemployed because work is scarce. “The contract ended and I have been unable to get a job since,” said the 25-year-old. Pawuti lives on remittances from her parents in the Eastern Cape.

Phumeza Pawuti

We met 18-year-old Anathi Mfundisi as she was dropping copies of her CV at retail shops in Khayelitsha Mall. She passed matric last year and has been looking for a job since. “They always promise to call you back but they never do,” she said. She believes that the main problem with youth unemployment is lack of skills. Mfundisi is supported by her parents.

Anathi Mfundisi

Messi Loliwe has been unemployed for over a year. She last worked as a security guard but she left her job because of health problems. “I was unable to stand for a whole day and that affected my health so I left the job,” said the 24-year-old. Loliwe said that finding a job is so hard, she now wants to start her own business. Currently she relies on her boyfriend for financial support.

Messi Loliwe

Sanele Madolo, aged 22, has been unable to maintain a steady source of income. He told Elitsha that it’s difficult for township youth to get jobs because the government does not care. “There are no jobs. In the townships people are unemployed. They are not giving people the opportunities and to start their own business. We don’t have money to buy toiletries or even jeans. It’s hard to be unemployed,” he said.

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Sanele Madolo

Meanwhile Pupa Fumba who declined to disclose his age said that the problem of youth unemployment is as a result of structural exclusion. “The framework that has been designed for employment is not designed for the working class, especially the black working class.” Fumba feels that the post-apartheid government has not dealt with the legacy of inequalities that were the main feature of apartheid.

“We’re living in a second phase of apartheid. People that benefit are close to those high in power. It’s been a corrupt government since 1994. It should be by the people for the people. Its for the elites by the elites for the private sector. I’m tired of looking for jobs. We need to create jobs for ourselves and look for support. This is where we need to focus on now. For decades we have served, but we need to do things that generate the social economy,” he said.

Pupa Fumba

Unemployed Assembly Movement

That is why Zama Timbela, an activist based in Khayelitsha, is working with other activists around the country to grow the Unemployment Assembly Movement. Made up of youth organisations and individuals around the country, the movement is dedicated to empowering and conscientising unemployed youth. “The reason people are unemployed is not their fault,” said Timbela. “The issue is the government and economics in South Africa; they always blame the victims when it comes to unemployment. People internalise that”

Timbela cites capitalism, company privatisation, and lack of proper education and training as the main reason this generation cannot find work. “We don’t want to be seen as these agents that are going to do a certain job for the government,” he said. “For us it’s a movement to demand jobs, to make sure people are trained, people are employed, people know they have the necessary skills to be absorbed in the labor market.”

The Unemployment Movement is currently in five provinces with around 350 members, but Timbela hopes to expand it. A major challenge he has faced is despondence. “The question they ask me is, ‘What will I get from this movement?’ I tell them you need to fight for jobs.”

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Government’s response to youth unemployment

President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government is putting youth unemployment at the top of its national agenda, having launched a Youth Employment Service (YES) on March 27. According to a government press release, the initiative combines “government, business, labour and civil society” where businesses that participate in the programme create one-year paid positions, sponsor a salary for a smaller enterprise, or participate in some form of training. This will provide one million youths with at least one year of work experience, a CV, and a reference letter according to the presidency.

Timbela said he rejects YES, for he believes that money should be funneled into training the youth instead of incentivizing companies to hire youth for a year or two, and then to fire them in hopes of receiving another grant.

Instead, Timbela said he wants to engage directly with the government. “The president mentioned something in the state of the nation: he wants to call all civil society movements to the job summit where he will try to come up with ways to cap unemployment,” he said. “We want to integrate with them so they can hear our voice. We’re still waiting.”

The National Youth Development Agency offers services and training to people aged 14-35, hoping to “tackle the high youth unemployment rate in South Africa.” In a March press release the NYDA said it is calling upon the private sector to do more, stating, “We will engage the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation to take to task all government departments on the adopted policies aimed at improving the lives of young people. The future of South Africa depends on a socio-economically active young citizenry”

Lerato Gambu, media representative of the NYDA, said that it is attempting to achieve 40 percent youth representation in both government departments and the private sector. The NYDA also is asking companies to remove the experience requirement to give more youths a chance for employment.

“We are the voice of the young people,” said Gambu. “Organised labor must join us so we can petition Parliament.”

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