Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the 2019 Youth Day Celebration, Peter Mokaba Cricket Club, Polokwane
Deputy President David Mabuza
Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Mr Nathi Mthethwa,
Premier of Limpopo, Mr Stan Mathabatha,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Chairperson of the NYDA, Mr Sifiso Mtsweni,
Members of Parliament,
MECs and Members of the Provincial Legislature,
Mayors and Councilors,
Leaders of youth and learner organisations,
Religious and traditional leaders,
Fellow South Africans,
Thobela. Avuxeni. Ndi matsheloni.
It is my honour to address this Youth Day celebration in a place named after one of our country’s greatest sons, Peter Ramoshoana Mokaba, the Lion of the North.
Today we remember the young men and women who were on the frontline of the school boycotts of June the 16th 1976.
Forty three years ago, thousands of students around the country – from Soweto to KwaMashu, to Gugulethu, to Port Elizabeth, to Makhado – rose up against oppression.
In their school uniforms, their fists in the air, and their faces bright with the fire of resistance, they confronted the heavily armed police singing: “Senzeni na? What have we done?”
The police responded with teargas and live ammunition. Many students were wounded, many lost their lives and many others had to flee the country and go to foreign lands.
Today we salute you: Hector Peterson, Mbuyisa Makhubu, Tsietsi Mashinini and all the youth of 1976, whose sacrifices ensured we could be free today. It is their direct contributions and of successive generations that allow us to sit here today as free men and women.
We pay tribute to all the progressive student movements – from NUSAS, SASO, AZASO, SANSCO and SASCO – for their contribution to the struggle for our liberation.
Young people have been the vanguard of our democratic revolution.
And it is you, the youth, who have taken up the struggles of a new generation – for economic freedom, for access to land and for access to education.
It is you who are the voice of our national conscience as we build a South Africa free of racism, of sexism, of xenophobia and other forms of discrimination.
It is you, the youth of this country, who remind us that our liberation is not complete as long as millions of our people live in poverty, are jobless and remain on the margins of society.
Over the last few months, I have cross crosses the length and breadth of our country listening to the voices of our people, young and old, men and women.
They took time to share with me their frustrations and their fears.
They told me of the indignity of waking up each morning hoping that today will be the day they find work, or some opportunity to change their lives, only to be disappointed day in and day out.
They told me of their despondency at having to sit at home despite having a degree, diploma or certificate because they do not have work experience.
They told me of having to stretch a grant or a pension to put food on the table.
Theirs are the stories of many young people around the country who have become increasingly frustrated.
Their stories are a harsh reminder that the social and economic marginalisation of our youth is a stain on our country’s conscience.
Amidst all this, I also encountered voices of hope.
I met young men and women who share my optimism for this country’s future.
Young people determined to succeed against the odds, and to go out into the world and carve a space for themselves.
I speak of 22-year-old Mahlatse Matlakana from Senwabarwana who runs a fresh produce company that supplies large retailers in Limpopo and the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market.
I speak of 34-year-old Faith Dowelani from Thohoyandou who runs a successful one stop beauty shop, Tshavhudi House of Beauty.
I speak of 27-year-old Precious Malatji from Dennilton who runs a thriving accounting practice.
Across this country there are stories of young people who have used their talents, imagination and creativity to solve some of our country’s most pressing challenges.
There is Thato Kgatlhanye, whose company designs and manufactures solar-charged schoolbags made from recycled plastic bags that can be used as reading lights.
There is Sifiso Ngobese whose company provides safe trolleys for waste pickers.
There is Tinashe Chipako, a young engineering student who pioneered a water-saving fertiliser project on the campus of the University of Cape Town.
There is Gabriella Mogale who invented fire-proof shack construction material, and Portia Mavhungu who invented a mechanism to assist people with disability to use the toilet with dignity.
They are just some of the young people who are making a difference in ways both big and small.
Many of us would have seen Major Mandisa Mfeka who flys a fighter jet for the South African Air Force. She was able to dream beyond her circumstances, growing up in KwaZulu-Natal to protecting our borders today.
This country’s young people are far from being the lost generation.
They are seizing the future with both hands.
They are building aircrafts in Cape Town, inventing water purification systems in Gauteng and spending their afternoons building circuits and prototypes in coding clubs in townships from Langa to Ivory Park.
They are serving as clinical directors in our hospitals, and entering Parliament and provincial legislatures in their numbers.
They are blazing a trail across the worlds of arts, culture and sport – like the young women of Banyana Banyana who are participating for the very first time in the Women’s FIFA World Cup in France.
Like our shining star and the daughter of this province, Mokgadi Caster Semenya, who has overcome challenges both off and on the track.
These positive stories are a reminder that the flame that burned bright in the youth of 1976 has not been lost to the history books. That flame continues to burn, as a nation, ours is to support it to burn even brighter than what it has been in the past.
Despite their hardships and daily struggles, millions of young people in this country still believe they have a place in the South African sun.
We are committed to provide our young people with all the opportunities possible to enable them to reach their potential.
This begins with education.
As government, we are on a path to renew and grow our economy, to accelerate industrialisation, and to create decent jobs.
We are doing so at a time of great technological advances.
Our young people need the necessary tools to navigate the changes these bring to the workplace and seize the opportunities they present.
We are therefore prioritising science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics in our education system.
Coding and data analytics are being introduced as school subjects.
At last year’s Presidential Jobs Summit, we agreed on a number of initiatives to accelerate the skilling of our young people to take advantage of jobs in the tech sector, as well as in installation, maintenance and repair jobs.
But we don’t just need software engineers.
We also need car mechanics, electricians, plumbers, hydroponics specialists, tour guides and aquaculture farmers.
These are all productive and growing areas of the economy into which our young people can be absorbed.
We are continuously strengthening our TVET colleges so young people can gain the technical skills our country needs to industrialise and develop our economy.
We are determined that no young person in this country should be denied a decent education because of the financial circumstances of their family.
It is for this reason that the budget of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme has grown exponentially from R70 million in 1994 to nearly R15 billion in 2018.
We are phasing in free tertiary education for children from poor and working class backgrounds.
This year we have also set aside over R900 million to settle the historical debts of continuing NSFAS-funded students.
Despite these efforts, however, youth unemployment remains a national crisis.
More than half of South Africans aged 15 to 24 are unemployed.
If we are to urgently address this, we need the active participation of the private sector to create pathways into work for young people who are prepared to learn, work hard and better themselves.
We welcome the work being done through the Youth Employment Service.
In a few months, the YES initiative has placed over 18,000 young people in employment opportunities and is providing business infrastructure and support through its community hubs.
Whilst this is a one year intervention, it has already become clear that many of these young people are finding long term employment at the end of their year in the YES programme.
The National Youth Development Agency continues to provide interventions to support young entrepreneurs and has over the past five years disbursed development finance to more than 6,000 start-up youth entrepreneurs and helped create more than 18,000 new jobs.
In its efforts to break barriers for young people in the job market, the NYDA has trained almost 400,000 young people on job preparedness and life skills.
Around 25,000 of these young people have now been placed in permanent jobs.
The Expanded Public Works and Community Works programmes continue to provide work opportunities and income relief to young people as they perform labour intensive activities like building roads, clearing alien vegetation and fighting fires.
Providing opportunities to young people in rural areas is an important focus and is the impetus behind the establishment of the National Rural Youth Service Corps programme.
Whether it is the funds dedicated by the Industrial Development Corporation for youth development, or offering an Employee Tax Incentive to companies or providing learnerships through the SETAs, we are working together to empower our country’s youth.
We know too well that the hardships our young people face are not limited to unemployment.
We know that the social ills that have beset our country have had a devastating impact on our young people.
To uplift the youth of our nation, to offer them hope of a better life, we must be their pillar of support as they try to navigate the difficult passageway into adulthood.
We know that alcohol and substance abuse is taking a devastating toll on young lives across our nation.
The average age of a drug user is getting younger.
Drugs are fueling violence, crime, suicide and risky sexual behaviour.
We will therefore work to mobilise the whole of society behind the National Drug Master Plan.
Once implemented, it is hoped this plan will reduce the demand for drugs, cut off their supply and ultimately free our youth from the harm they cause.
The high incidence of HIV among young people indicates that we also need to step up prevention campaigns directed at youth to raise awareness around risky sexual behaviour.
We also have to deal with gender-based violence among young people and encourage them to conduct healthy relationships, and to dismantle deeply ingrained sexist attitudes towards women and girls.
This begins in the home, with parents imparting positive values to their sons and daughters.
The future belongs to this country’s youth.
They are brimming with potential but these social ills are holding them back and diverting them from their distant glory.
We are on a mission to support young people entering the labour market, by growing new and future jobs, and by giving them the opportunities to serve their communities and contribute to the growth of our economy.
Working with our social partners, organized Labour, business and civil society, government is building on agreements such as the Youth Accord and the Jobs Summit, we have it within our means to solve the challenge of youth unemployment in a sustainable manner.
We are crafting and building a number of initiatives and interventions because we are very aware that young unemployment is a national crisis requiring all social partners to work together to decisively tackle it.
If our nation can rise as one and open up opportunities for youth from all facets of society, we will be able to bring hope and change to the lives of youth.
Our success as a nation in the years to come depends on us making more room for the youth of this country.
They have shown us that if only given the opportunity, they will succeed.
To you, the youth, we salute your resilience.
Many of you are too young to have experienced the injusice of apartheid, but many of you live with its effects.
Do not lose hope.
Do not let the sun set on your ambition, your plans and your dreams.
You are the sons and daughters of a great people, and inheritors of the spirit of Peter Mokaba, of Nelson Mandela, of Hector Pieterson and of the generation of 1976.
In taking advantage of the opportunities this government has made available to you to improve your lives – like enrolling in a TVET college or volunteering to do community work – you are keeping their legacy of civic activism alive.
Your schools, libraries and centres of learning are not just for your benefit, but for the benefit of future generations.
Be proud of them and protect them.
You are born of a people who experienced one of the greatest tragedies in modern human history, but who triumphed.
You, like me, believe in the greatness of this country.
This country is yours to inherit, so rise and take charge of your destiny.
A new tomorrow is on the horizon, bringing with it the promise of a South Africa of shared prosperity, of equal opportunity for all, and a South Africa where you, the youth, are its greatest asset.
Let us grow South Africa together.
I thank you.