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Topnews, Statements

11. Juni 2021


Dear Friends

June 16th is commemorated as Youth Day in South Africa. It was on this day in 1976 that school children took to the streets of Soweto in revolt, against the imposition of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in addition to the hated inferior Bantu education system. The Soweto Uprisings, as the action came to be called, was met with brute force when the Apartheid regime opened fire on young unarmed school children, murdering thousands and maiming many more.

While the day was marked with tragedy, it also serves as a commemoration of the contribution of the youth in the struggle for the liberation of South Africa. In light of the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it provides a timely opportunity to reflect on the role of the youth in the upliftment of society and the role they can play as agents of change.

This year National Youth Day and Youth Month will be celebrated under the theme: The Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke: Growing youth employment for an inclusive and transformed society.”

Youth as Agents of Change

South Africa has given birth to several youth icons who have not only transformed their immediate societies but also the global community with revolutionary ideas in many fields like politics, culture, literature, science and technology. Charlotte Mannya Maxeke was the first black South African woman graduate, a teacher, religious leader and political activist. Her extraordinary life was spent in service to her people and community under very challenging circumstances at the turn of the century. We recall a young Nelson Mandela calling for human dignity amidst gross racial prejudice and brave eleven-year-old AIDS activist, Nkosi Johnson campaigning against discrimination faced by those living with HIV, and Miriam Makeba with the heavenly voice of angels and lyrics of freedom songs. What they all had in common was the power to inspire and bring about the change they desired.

More recently, we witnessed South African youth successfully take up issues impacting on their lives and livelihoods such as the high cost of data and tertiary education through the “Data Must Fall” and “Fees Must Fall” campaigns. On the African front, we have witnessed the Arab Springs Uprising in Tunisia and Egypt followed by the powerful Blacks Lives Matter campaign, which have ignited long-overdue discussions on accountability, transformation, social inclusion, police brutality and racial discrimination globally. The novelty of these movements lies in the fact that they were largely coordinated by the youth and conducted through technological platforms in real time. The youth have reclaimed their agency and advocacy through powerful campaigns, which have reawakened political consciousness and redefined social awareness.

South Africa’s future lies in the hands of its youth

South Africa is blessed to be a youthful nation. However, the recent unemployment statistics pertaining to young people is cause for concern. The 2020 fourth quarter Labour Force Survey found that about 8,6 million young people aged between 15 and 34 years are not in education and not in employment. In helping to draw more young people into the economy, government has under the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention initiated various youth development and empowerment initiatives to support young people. It ranges from formal education and training; learnerships and internships as well as support for youth entrepreneurship. Our initiatives provide the necessary support for young people to take on their challenges and win.

The Presidential Youth Employment Intervention, implemented under the auspices of the Basic Education sector, has created employment opportunities for more than 320 000 education and general education assistants, who were placed in schools around the country. Other initiatives include the Expanded Public Works Programme, Community Works Programme and the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator. The National Youth Service also provides a platform for young people to become activists and leaders in their communities.  During this month of youth, government and its agencies such as the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) will host a number of engagements, including youth expos, dialogues and youth entrepreneur hubs to showcase opportunities available to young people.

Keeping Pace with a Changing World

The world is evolving at a rapid pace, ushering in great technological and social change, which offers opportunities and challenges alike. Globalisation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) have enabled countries to frog leap development and improve the living standards of their people in a shorter span of time. Dividends of 4IR such as digitisation, automation, biotechnology, genomics, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing have redefined the workspace and reconceptualised how we engage with the world. Innovation and creativity are now considered key skills for leveraging the 4IR. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the future workforce will need to align its skillset to keep pace.

As daunting as this may appear, it has given rise to career options which were unimaginable a decade ago. In line with their global counterparts, South African youth have embraced the technological frontier through the explosion of tech hubs across the country.  As the cost of data drops and broadband speeds up, we can look forward to more young South Africans using social media and smartphone applications to display their innovative ideas tailored to the local market. Some of the more famous apps created by South Africans include Gradematch, which assist learners apply for tertiary education and Khwela, which provides commuter information on where to catch taxis on their route, saving time and money, amongst others.

As the workspace migrates from physical to digital, this new landscape offers a wide range of opportunities to those willing to extend themselves. South Africa is filled with a deep pool of talent of creative young people, who will no doubt be instrumental in rebuilding sectors devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The youth have a pivotal role to play in post-COVID recovery efforts through digital innovation to promote socio-economic transformation, equality, inclusiveness, quality healthcare, climate resilience and sustainable industrialisation. They are best placed to understand the current and future needs of our societies to shape new solutions in the post-COVID world.

The importance of Education

The South African government recognises and values the importance of quality education in transforming the lives of people and building a better future for them and their communities. Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a miner can become the head of a mine and the child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make of what we have and not what we are given, that separates one person from another”.

The youth are the leaders of the next generation and the entire country is encouraged to participate in Youth Month by recognising the present and future role of the youth in shaping the socio-economic landscape of our country and the globe.

In commemoration of Youth Day, the Embassy, in collaboration with the Southern African Documentation and Cooperation Centre (SADOCC), warmly invites you to a panel discussion on “The challenges faced by Young South Africans Pre-and Post-Democracy: A reflection”  on 16 June 2021, where I will share a personal recollection of my days as a youth activist in South Africa. We look forward to celebrating this special day with you.

With best regards

Ambassador RS Molekane





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