Tshing — South Africa's youth who gathered in the North West province for this year's Youth Month celebrations on Friday have supported the call by President Jacob Zuma to place education at the forefront of their lives.
"No matter your age, colour or your background, education is a tool that we can use to empower ourselves. Education is for us all," youngster Shaun Rakate said.
Rakate's comments came after President Zuma's call for the youth to use education to advance their lives.
"Education is the key to a brighter future. Our message to the youth [is that they must] study, read and be knowledgeable," the President told those attending the main Youth Day commemoration in Tshing Extension 2 in Ventersdorp, North West.
President Zuma said government wants to see young people being able to go to universities and colleges.
"Education is the most powerful weapon towards economic freedom," he said adding that through the Education Infrastructure Grant and the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative, more schools have been built around the country. To date, government has allocated R12 billion to improve school infrastructure needs.
South Africa on Friday marked 41 years since the June 16, 1976 Soweto student uprisings that saw students march against the Bantu education system.
Paying tribute to those who fought for South Africa's political freedom under the apartheid regime, President Zuma noted that the youth of today is fighting a different struggle. They are fighting to be freed from poverty, inequality and unemployment.
The President said a democratic South Africa calls upon young people to work with government to ensure that the youth have access to decent houses, roads, electricity and recreation facilities among others.
Rakate called on the youth to study so that they can reach their goals of a better life for themselves as well as the communities from which they come from.
This was emphasised by President Zuma, who told a packed white marquee that government is appreciative of improvements in the country's matric pass rates annually.
In addition, government is also introducing the incremental use of African languages in schools on a compulsory basis.
"Beyond matric, government wants our youth to access higher education regardless of the economic status of their families," said the President.
Since its inception, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has disbursed over R72 billion in loans and bursaries to students from poor households while over 2 million students are currently receiving NSFAS funding.
Meanwhile, President Zuma said South Africa's National Development Plan (NDP) outlines the vision of a growing economy that must create jobs for all.
He said a growing economy is the most potent solution against youth unemployment. This as Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) data showed that South Africa's unemployment rate has increased to 27.7% in the first quarter of 2017.
National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) board chair Sifiso Mtsweni said youth unemployment is unacceptable.
"The time has come that companies and government reflect 40% of youth in their operations," said Mtsweni.
The President acknowledged that the South African economy is growing sluggishly in addition to sovereign rating downgrades.
To mitigate the challenges, he said, government will meet with business before the end of June. The meeting would be about how to ignite confidence in the economy.
However, government has made progress towards empowering the youth.
Since the launch of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) Phase 3 in April 2014, over 1.2 million work opportunities have been taken up by the youth out of the total 2.6 million work opportunities created by the programme.
In the current financial year, the EPWP aims to create more than 700 000 work opportunities for the youth through the four sectors of infrastructure, social sector, non-state as well as environmental and cultural sectors.
As part of efforts to create work opportunities for the youth, the Department of Communications will train over 2000 youth to help install set top boxes to enable digital migration.
In addition, through the Department of Human Settlements, over 500 host employers in the real estate sector will absorb over 8000 unemployed youth and graduates.
In addition other government departments such as the Department of Water and Sanitation will continue to train young people as plumbers and artisan.
In the current financial year, the NYDA will invest R72 million in economic participation programmes. A total 18 000 young aspirant entrepreneurs will receive business support services like vouchers and mentorship among others.
The agency will also open four new branches over the next two years in Ekurhuleni in Gauteng, Richards Bay, OR Tambo region in the Eastern Cape and Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal.
The agency will also continue to prioritise education as well as the Solomon Mahlangu Scholarship Fund. The fund supports 500 students annually.
President Zuma was accompanied to the main environment by several Ministers including Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Minister in the Presidency Buti Manamela.