Six thousand young people graduated from the four-year National Rural Youth Corps (Narysec) programme at Thaba Nchu College of Education in the Free State on Tuesday.
South Africa launched its National Rural Youth Service Corps in 2010. The programme was established by the Department of Rural Development and is designed to complement the government's job creation model.
The Youth Corps aims to help transform young people in the rural areas from being job seekers to being job creators in their own right, as well as reducing their dependency on social grants.
Speaking at the graduation ceremony on Tuesday, Gugile Nkwinti, the minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, said, "In the coming years, we will be talking about a changed and different rural [life] in South Africa.
"It is equally reasonable to predict that because of skilling and creating employment for our young people in our rural areas through Narysec, [it] is bearing fruit."
The long-term programme, which also aims to uplift rural areas with services and infrastructure, started out with 7 900 participants. There were now about 14 000 people enrolled in the programme, Nkwinti said.
In 2012, the recruitment drive for the programme was increased from four to six people per rural ward and include residents aged between 18 and 35 who have completed Grade 10. They are trained in technical, artisan and social-work skills.
"The Presidency is the developer of youth policy in the country," Obed Bapela, the Deputy Minister in the Presidency: Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation, said at the ceremony.
"Narysec is indeed becoming an intervention programme taking young people, who are unskilled and unemployed in the rural areas, and giving them a second opportunity to be able to get the necessary skills to either seek employment or start their own entrepreneurial opportunities.
"It is a very good programme and it has been supported and sustained. We hope that other departments will develop their own programmes that are similar to Narysec to [counter the] challenge of youth skills development," he said.
A graduate of Narysec, Colbert Mabasa, 29, from Mukhomi village in Limpopo who was attending the ceremony, told SANews that the programme created invaluable job opportunities for young people.
"My life has changed because of the construction and agricultural skills that I've acquired through the programme. I value this programme and I can see the difference the programme is making to young people's lives, mostly in rural areas.
"I know how to build, plaster and make roofing. Before I started with this programme in 2010, I was unemployed and unskilled.
"Currently, I am building houses for people in my village. I've already registered my construction company and I've employed five local people," he said.
Mabasa was part of a group that visited China recently to learn agricultural skills. He also runs a two-hectare garden where he grows vegetables to sell to retailers.
"I've been sitting doing nothing at home since I matriculated in 2008 as there was no money for me to further my studies. My results were also not good. But now this programme has changed my life for the better and I'm always working very hard so that I can also change the lives of other young people in my village," he said.
The graduation ceremony was preceded by the handing over of Thaba Nchu College of Education to the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform by Free State Premier Ace Magashule.
The college is now the headquarters of the Youth Corps programme. It will also be used as the permanent exhibition centre of the 1913 Land Act Exhibition.
- SAinfo reporter and SAnews.gov.za