Tackling The State Of Youth Policies

 “Our youth are not failing the system; the system is failing our youth. Ironically, the very youth who are being treated the worst are the people who are going to lead us out of this nightmare.” –  Rachel Jackson

Young people don’t enter early adulthood with an inability to carve out a life for themselves that would see them contributing to society positively. Empowering a young mind is said to be the pivotal to inculcating active citizenry and in a country that has played host to a long history of disenfranchisement, the urgency to independently review policies aimed at youth development in South Africa is now long overdue.

Statistics South Africa notes that the South Africa’s population is largely made up of young people (approximately 60% of the population consists of people below the age of 35) but that a large proportion of this part of the population is unemployed and plagued by poverty and crime. Yet governmental policies aimed at improving their lives and are still marred by a number of seemingly insurmountable constraints.

Over the past five years, South African President Jacob Zuma took the opportunity to mention programmes aimed at the development of South African youth in his State of the Nation Addresses (SONA) – but primarily in passing. An event which marks the opening of parliament by a reflection on what the government has achieved in the past year, the SONA is meant to be an incisive message to the South African public around the initiatives the government is putting in place to ensure the continuance of nation building.

In his 2014 SONA, President Zuma noted that “although South Africa is a better place to live in now than it has ever been, the country still faces the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment”, all three of which are inextricably linked to the lives of young people – an admission he had made in his SONA two years before.

In 2016, President Zuma “urged businesses to partner with new manufacturers including businesses owned by women and the youth” and interestingly, he did not mention programmes aimed at the development of youth in his SONA in both 2013 and 2015.

South Africa has a long history of institutional, policy and legislative instruments that have and continue to contribute to youth development. Policy research suggests that over the course of the past eight years, the government had in fact introduced a number of programmes which are meant to actively or indirectly target the development of young people in South Africa. These policies and interventions include:

  • The NYDA (Act) 2008;
  • The National Skills Accord (2011);
  • The Basic Education Accord (2011);
  • The Youth Employment Accord (2013);
  • The Employment Tax Incentive (2013); and
  • The National Youth Policy (2009 -2014 & 2014-2019).

Livity Africa campaign manager Ziyanda Stuurman maintains that many of the South African government’s policies and programmes are well-intentioned but  because of the macro-political environment and other constraints, they have been inadequate in the type of targeted interventions needed to address youth unemployment – a key challenge the government is trying to address.

Stuurman says examples of constraints around policy making to this end include the strained negotiations that characterised the drafting of both the Employment Tax Incentive (ETI) and the National Youth Policy with political players such as COSATU and big business. “In essence, both pieces of policy relied heavily on the State for implementation as an employer and focused greatly on State intervention to the detriment of providing clear pathways into the corporate sector for young people,” she said. In addition, the ETI was introduced in 2013 which may be the reason why the President both in 2013 and 2015 would not have focused on youth employment schemes as the policy was meant to be a “silver bullet” of sorts. Stuurman says that in those years, the policies would have been monitored and evaluated so it may have been prudent not to comment on youth employment interventions before seeing the outcomes of this intervention first.

Is the National Youth Development Agency working for the youth?

One other crucial intervention aimed that has come under scrutiny is the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) which came about as a result of the NYDA Act. Launched in 2009, the NYDA’s primary aims include the design and implementation of programmes aimed at improving the lives and opportunities available to young people. A recent Wits University graduate Nthabiseng Nooe says she doesn’t think the NYDA is working. “With the new direction of offering grants to young people to do business – and therefore work their own way out of poverty – they do no significant ground work in making sure they are sensitive of the people they want to work with. Nooe cites the story of young businessman Shane Sekano who visited the NYDA offices in 2011 to enquire about the requirements and processes for funding a start-up. Sekano explains that he did not have a registered company, business bank account and SARS tax number. “The receptionist looked at me like a nuisance and offered no assistance and that was the last time I bothered to go there. The intimidation that comes from stepping into big funding organisations, whether from the government or private sector caters to how successful one becomes. The environment ignores the reality that the people who are in dire need of funding are often new to such settings, and a level of sensitivity is required.”

In a recent assessment of the successes, challenges and failures of the NYDA, the latter showed that a lack of coherent co-ordination of activities, duplication of responsibilities, fragmentation and lack of clear mandates led to implications in terms of accountability, monitoring and evaluation, etc. In policy terms, this seems like a recurring problem within South African government structures. Stuurman agrees, saying that a large part of the challenge in streamlining South Africa’s economic opportunities and policies has been a very low level of coherent coordination across the board. “With the departments of Trade and Industry, Small Business Development, Economic Development, Treasury and Labour all performing overlapping roles and fulfilling mandates that are times unnecessarily confusing, it is difficult for government to make sense of all the work that needs to be done and this is true of investors and youth employment schemes. All of the abovementioned departments and others are involved in stimulating youth employment but very few are speaking to each other on how to do that in a collaborative manner.”

So where to from here? Helen Suzman Foundation researcher Anele Mtwesi  says the mere fact that the current youth cohort is the best educated, the healthiest sector of the population, are technology savvy, have high hopes and aspirations for the future, and have the ability to influence political processes and civic life makes them a powerful force in our society.

She agrees with other policy research institutes who have found that there is a need for an independent set of annual evaluations of youth programmes which would not only provide policy and decision makers with useful information on the degree of fulfilment of intended aims and objectives, but also reinforce transparency and public accountability. “This would do a lot to restore young people’s trust in public policy and youth institutions,” says Mtwesi.

Photo credit: Kim Barlow

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