According to Statista in 2019 the youth accounted for 68% of the 55 million people in South Africa, meaning that two out of three people in 2019 were under the age of 35. The importance of educating and empowering the youth is undeniable especially in our country when majority of the people who fought the Apartheid system through ANC were youth when they joined the struggle for liberation. The importance of the youth now is just as important as it was on the 10th of September 1944 when the ANC Youth League was formed to galvanise the youth. The formation was led by a number of comrades including Former President Nelson Mandela and Comrade Anton Lambede who become the first president of the Youth League at the age of 30.

Today the youth are largely marginalised and excluded from the economy with the June 2021 stats indicating that unemployment of the youth between 15 and 34 in the first quarter of 2021 was 46, 3%. It must be stated that the impact of COVID-19 played a significant role in the unemployment rate of both youth and unemployment in general.  The participation of youth in politics, National Assembly in particular increased from 6% in the 5th administration to 11% in the beginning of the 6thadministration in May 2019. The youngest Member of Parliament was Mr Itumeleng Ntsube who was sworn in at the age of 20 from the African National Congress. There has been progress with regard to the participation of the youth; this can be seen with the ANC in its 2019 guidelines for electing members of Parliament and legislature which targeted 20% people under the age of 40 with an intention to increase it to 30%.

There are a number of incentives which have been put in place which seek to increase the participation of the youth in the economy an example being the Preferential Procurement Regulations of 2017 which included subcontracting as a condition of tender which states that a minimum of 30% of tenders above R30 million should be sub-contracted to designated groups which include youth. The measures are progressive however more needs to be done to include youth in both politics and the economy.

The general outcry for the inclusion of youth has been one that excludes the older generation which in a country with South Africa’s history does not give many options for those who paved the way for the democracy we enjoy with their youth. There has not been enough time for the majority of those who are older to accumulate wealth of any sort to sustain a life outside of work and politics because of the type of work and the income inequality. A call for inclusion which requires exclusion is not only contradictory but also counter revolutionary.

What is the solution? Inclusion through integration and redesign of the current systems and structures in both politics and the economy may be the only viable option. This can be done by building on the experience and knowledge of those who have been there but led by the energy and innovation of the youth in the renewal of the country to change the statistics of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

 In a practical sense this would require the alteration of the roles played by the current guard, changing the role to more of an oversight, consultative and regulatory role, one that also provides a moral compass. Such roles still provide for participation in both politics and the economy while vacating the space for the youth to take control and lead the country into a new dawn. The key for empowering the youth lies in the inclusion of the old.


TJ Masilela


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