South Africa has yet again sunk deeper into the dark pit of unemployment, with the youth and future generations being hardest hit, magnifying the impact for years to come.
Based on Statistics SA’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (Q2 2021), unemployment had reached a record high of 34.4%. Young people aged between 15 – 24 and 25 – 34 recorded the highest unemployment rates of 63,3% and 41,3% respectively. Moreover, the youth jobless rate as per the expanded definition is now at a staggering 74.7%.
While many institutions are putting forward training, education or even entrepreneurship as solutions to the issue, the dire situation seems to have developed beyond a ‘quick fix’. We cannot merely add a band-aid at this stage. According to Nizenande Machi, co-founder of the youth development lab, Lucha Lunako, “This is not necessarily the time for South Africa to tout quick solutions to address the increased youth unemployment in the country, but rather the time for us to reflect and sit in the discomfort of this reality. As a country, we have been in this downward trajectory for decades, unemployment has long been a major problem, and the Covid-19 pandemic just added to the burden.”
Also speaking to the crisis that the country finds itself in, co-founder of Lucha Lunako – Alana Bond points out that, “If we are to disrupt the current cycle of poverty and joblessness, we need to take a long, hard look at the systemic issues in our country and address the numerous ways in which our people and our economy are held back from success. It’s time we acknowledged that overloading young people with technical skills when they do not yet have the foundations in place to absorb and utilise these skills, or the jobs to move into, is not only failing, but wasting a lot of valuable resources, including the time of the young people themselves.
Additionally, expecting a large percentage of young people to magically start up successful businesses when many are not even employable, is naïve at best. South Africa is facing a serious crisis, and doggedly pursuing technical skills and entrepreneurship as silver bullets is reminiscent of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. It’s time to start doing different things, if we want to see different results.”
Following the announcement on Tuesday, 24 August 2021 by Statistics SA, Bloomberg also revealed that South Africa was now among the 82 countries with the highest unemployment rates globally.
“It is important to note that with the heightened rate of unemployment, also comes other evils that are often hand in hand with poverty, including high crime rates and increased incidents of gender-based violence, meaning that women and children will be compromised even further,” notes Bond.
Addressing the development of youth, Machi warns that when tackling the burden of unemployment in the country, extra care must be paid in terms of how the youth are addressed as ‘recipients or priority group’ for employment opportunities.
“We believe there is a significant difference between helping someone discover their agency: what they already ‘have’, their power, capacity, gifting and calling; versus telling them that ‘I am now going to give it to you’. We’ve noted that these complex power dynamics, that often position young people as continuous recipients of knowledge and development organisations as knowledge heads, are quite pervasive in the youth development sector and we want to turn this manner of developing youth ‘on its head’, so to speak,” explains Machi.
Last year, Lucha Lunako released their Youth Development Reimagined Report which proposes a new framework that focuses on three core areas of development, which we refer to as human foundations, for youth. These refer respectively to an all-encompassing development framework that starts with relationship with self (“I”), then interpersonal relations with others (“You”), then the broader work and life context (“Youth”). Within this I, You and Youth framework there are three constructs:
I have it – the development of self
You have it – a mindshift change to those around you
Youth have it – the greater context of those around you and at work
“While the light at the end of the tunnel seems further away, racing to get there is not going to yield sufficient results. We have done that before, and this is where we find ourselves – it is time for us to dig deeper and the youth must be part of the solution. We need far longer-term solutions than entrepreneurship or training as quick fix – we need to address the greater issue – the mindset that is plaguing the growing unemployed youth market”, concludes Machi.