Releasing potential of our young nation

Phumla WilliamsThe events of June 16, 1976 when thousands of young people took to the streets of Soweto in defiance of the apartheid regime is one of the defining moments of our journey to democracy, equality and freedom. The protesters courage inspired countless others all over the country and before long the uprising spread, forever changing the socio-political landscape in South Africa.

During Youth Month we again reflect on and commemorate the sacrifices made by the youth of 1976, who were willing to lay down their lives in the fight against apartheid. We do so cognisant that the youth of today face a very different challenge. Our common struggle now is to defeat the scourge of substance abuse and to provide quality education and economic opportunities so that this generation can overcome the triple threat of poverty, inequality and unemployment. The vision for our youth is captured in the theme of Youth Month: “Working Together for Youth Development and a Drug -Free South Africa.”

The haunting reality of substance abuse was brought to life recently when President Jacob Zuma visited Eldorado Park in response to the desperate pleas of mothers in that community. President Zuma heard their stories and instructed law enforcement agencies to step up their anti-drug and substance abuse operations in this area.

The government's decisive action in Eldorado Park has seen a major clampdown on drug dens and the arrest of known drug lords. However, the fight is far from over, and we know the situation in Eldorado Park is symptomatic of similar issues facing communities across the country.

We hope that our successes in Eldorado Park will reinforce the notion that a drug free society can be achieved if communities stand together. The government will focus on the fight against substance abuse in public participation sessions during Imbizo Focus Week from today to next Monday. This is an opportunity for communities and role players to join the fight against substance abuse and make their voices heard.

The second pillar of our Youth Month theme is youth development. This entails providing young people with quality education and opportunities to enter the job market. The battle for economic emancipation is every bit as daunting as the fight against apartheid by the youth of 1976.

Globally there is a youth employment crisis, young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) “has warned of a scarred generation of young workers facing a dangerous mix of high unemployment, increased inactivity and precarious work in developed countries, as well as persistently high working poverty in the developing world.”

Census 2011 describes South Africa as a young nation with close to 60 per cent of the population under the age of 35. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity as joblessness affects mainly the youth. The challenge is to harness the inherent potential in our youthful population and turn this into new jobs and opportunities to fuel our economic growth.

Speaking at the Japan International Co-operation Agency seminar, President Jacob Zuma shared South Africa’s experience within the context of global youth unemployment. He said: “The South African economic legacy lies in the distorted pattern of ownership and economic exclusion created by apartheid policies and, as such, the effects of decades of racial exclusion are still evident in both employment levels and income differentials.

In order to address the above challenges, the government, along with our social partners, continues to work hard to implement policies that have a potential to transform the South African economy, including reducing high levels of inequality, creating decent jobs, and reducing the concentration of economic ownership to a small section of our society.”

Giving life to the vision President Zuma pointed to the National Development Plan (NDP), the New Growth Path (NGP) and 18 integrated Strategic Infrastructure Programmes (SIPs) that will lay the base for higher growth, inclusivity and job creation.

Youth feature prominently in the NDP - our blueprint to take us beyond the constraints of the present by tackling long-term structural and economic challenges over the next twenty to thirty years.

The New Growth Path is the vehicle that will concretise the longer term vision of the NDP by harnessing areas in the economy that have the potential for creating employment on a large scale. These are infrastructure, the agricultural value chain, the mining value chain, the green economy, manufacturing sectors, tourism and certain other high-level service sectors.

Tying it all together are the 18 integrated strategic infrastructure programme (SIPs), encompassing more than 645 projects across the country. So far, 15 strategic infrastructure programme (SIPs) have been launched, and thousands of new jobs have been created.

In Japan President Zuma also spoke of the need for partnership in addressing the challenges of youth unemployment. “We recently negotiated a Youth Accord between government, business, labour, civil society and youth organisations. This will go a long way in addressing our challenges,” he said.

The government is committed to grow the economy and creating jobs to assist our youth in overcoming the triple threat of poverty, inequality and unemployment. The spirit of partnership is crucial if we are to address our shared challenges. We urge South Africans to support government, business and labour as we together strive to build a better life for all.

Phumla Williams is acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)

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