Biz-Community (Cape Town)

25 February 2013

South Africa: Young South Africans Face Major Obstacles

The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation's (IJR) annual transformation audit, 'The Youth Dividend: Unlocking the Potential of Young South Africans', indicates that while young South Africans have confidence in their own abilities to succeed and most are positive about their own future in general, they also face major obstacles in becoming part of a more inclusive economy.

Given the country's history and the structural composition of its economy, they are probably more vulnerable than their peers in many other emerging economies are.

The annual audit, released 20 February 2013, comments on governance and democracy in South Africa and is valued locally and internationally as an important indication of the "state of the nation."

This year's audit, which comprises contributions from leading and emerging South African thinkers, tackles economic governance, the labour market, skills and education and poverty and inequality; from the perspective of youth.

Economic vulnerability

While it finds that young people's economic vulnerability is not peculiarly a South African phenomenon, "ours is more pronounced, given the deeply entrenched history of exclusion upon which it is superimposed," says Jan Hofmeyr, head the IJR Policy and Analysis Unit and editor of the transformation audit.

"In an age of rapid change and uncertainty, where the predicative value of long-held beliefs are being challenged almost daily, one of the few enduring and reliable pointers to the future of a country is the wellbeing of its young people.

"Their energy, their attitudes and their sense of empowerment to exploit opportunities are what drive and determine the direction in which a society moves.

This emphasis on young people is also what makes the National Planning Commission's (NPC) National Development Plan (NDP) a compelling document worth engaging with and a strong focus of this year's audit.

A more equitable, caring society

"It has already been hailed broadly for the sense of common purpose and direction that it has induced to the search for a more equitable and caring society."

According to Hofmeyr, its real persuasiveness stems from the fact that it is grounded in a thorough, forthright and empirical engagement with South Africa's demographic realities.

"Its bias, as one would expect of a forward-looking document, is towards the interrogation of obstacles and opportunities for this country's young."

In their contribution, Neil Rankin and his team of researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand outline this same vulnerability.

Their labour market analysis shows the "uneven" impact that the global recession has had on young South Africans in particular.

Rankin asserts that it is important to foster an understanding for the new realities of young South Africans in a post-apartheid context. "Without much notice, the first group of the so-called 'born-free' generation quietly reached voting age in 2012.

Unresolved past

"While their world view may have been shaped under conditions of political freedom, an unresolved past that manifests in the presence of poverty and inequality for many of them, continues to constrain the sense of social agency and opportunity."

To avert the 'perfect storm', which the NPC cautions against, those in leadership positions will do well in treading a fine line. Hofmeyr continues, "Neither denial, nor manipulation of historical fact for political expediency will sit well with this constituency.

"Their reality is, after all, incontrovertible and there for everybody to see. What is required is humility, and responsiveness, but above all, the wisdom to listen and take action," he concludes.

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