Youth Day: The 3 major role players in Today’s “Youth Protest”

South Africa is among the countries with the most public holidays in the world, ranking 7th with 12 public holidays in total, alongside Kenya, Finland & Russia.

Read: Where does SA rank amongst the countries with the most public holidays


While it is always great to have some time off work or school on these special days, it is more important to remember the significance and purpose behind each public holiday and the reason why it is observed. South Africa is a nation with so much history with so many ups and downs, victories and losses, as well as sad and happy periods and each of these events symbolise what South Africa is as a country and the journey the nation has undergone to becoming a rainbow nation.  We are cited in transformational talks around the world by experts who recognise what we have achieved. In this month we recognise what our youth have achieved.

On the 16th of June, South Africa will be observing Youth Day, which is one of our most memorable, significant and celebrated public holidays. On this day South Africa pays tribute to the courageous young students of 1976 who lost their lives after they had united towards a common cause, which was to fight for a better education system. Indisputably, Youth Day isn’t just a day of reflecting on the past; it also presents an opportunity for all South Africans to shift their focus to contemporary issues that the youth of today face. Today’s youth also faces a number of diverse challenges such as the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution on youth unemployment, lack of higher education funding, gang affiliations, drug abuse, poverty, and unequal educational opportunities. Although there are government and NGO initiatives in place that address these issues, the country has a long history of crime and poverty which creates a vicious cycle that is not easy to break. One such initiative is in the sprawling township of Tembisa, Get Informed. An NPO, Giving Wings Youth Development has been running Saturday workshops for the youth in Tembisa and Olievenhoutbosch to hone their personal and entrepreneurial skills culminating in pitches on Saturday 15th June in Johannesburg.

Unemployment is currently one of the major issues that today’s youth currently faces. According to a recent publication by Statistics South Africa, almost 4 in every 10 young people in the South African labour force is unemployed. Read: Youth graduate unemployment rate increases in Q1: 2019

The youth (aged 15 – 34 years of age) accounts for 63.4% of the total number of unemployed persons. If you look at the diagram below focusing only on the age groups 15 – 24 and 25 – 34, you will notice that the unemployment rate is at its highest for those with less than a matric, followed by those with a matric certificate, then those with varying educational levels, and finally graduates. Although these percentages differ across all educational levels, the unemployment rate still remains high.

Read: Youth graduate unemployment rate increases in Q1: 2019


Now there are several factors that contribute to this high youth unemployment rate and they include

  • Skills shortage – most of the unemployed youth are without a matric, and essentially the skills necessary to become employable in today’s workplace.
  • Poor transitioning from “school” to the world of work
  • Shortage of stable job opportunities for inexperienced youth
  • Lack of opportunities for workplace exposure

Thinking back to 1976, the youth of South Africa united over a single purpose and acted with one mind to fight a poor education system. Now the problem is bigger and broader, and several stakeholders (not just the youth) need to follow the example of the young people of 1976 and unite over the single purpose of fighting against the socio-economic challenges that today’s youth are facing. So, who are some of the key role players that can make a difference in today’s youth protest and help address these 4 major challenges?


1. The Government

So far, the government has been quite proactive in implementing youth empowerment programmes to combat some of the issues faced by the youth. The Gauteng Department of Education is bussing youth from townships to the sponsored Gauteng Youth Expo, happening at Nasrec on 13th Jun 2019 – 17th Jun 2019. However, it is not an overnight fix as the government needs all the help it can get to accelerate youth development and employment initiatives. The government has recently implemented the Youth Empowerment Service (YES).

YES is a government initiative that was developed out of a partnership between business, labour and civil society to help young people (between the ages of 18 – 35) gain access to real employment opportunities and learning. It is aimed at creating 1 million new 12-month job opportunities for young people and grant them a year’s work experience. Many jobs today require work experience which the vast majority of the youth does not have, YES will give the youth not only employment, but access to the jobs that require experience as well. The government has also implemented bursary, internship and learnership programmes across its departments nationwide to address skills shortages and provide more educational opportunities for young people. Read: Government and opportunities for youth.

The government is also aware of the need to empower the youth to explore entrepreneurship as a career. As stipulated in the National Development Plan (NDP), small businesses are key to lessening the unemployment rate to 6% by 2030, so there needs to be a more aggressive approach to creating entrepreneurship opportunities for people, especially the youth. The government actually has initiatives in place that are introduced to encourage young South Africans to participate in the economy through entrepreneurship such as the National Youth Development Agency, Gro-E Youth Scheme, and The Youth Entrepreneurship Fund.

All of these initiatives are aimed at ensuring that the youth has funding, knowledge and the skills to run a successful business and partake in the country’s economy.


2. Businesses

Companies in both the private and public sector also have a significant role to play to address the youth socio-economic challenges. In addressing an issue such as youth unemployment, the government cannot create opportunities on its own, it needs assistance from businesses. Over 281 businesses in South Africa have already started working with the government to empower youth as they have joined the YES programme and in turn they can claim B-BBEE points for their contribution. For the YES programme to reach its goal and really reduce youth unemployment, more businesses need to join the cause and unite towards achieving this goal.

Apart from partaking in government initiatives, there are countless other ways that businesses can combat youth unemployment and partake in today’s youth protest. They can create independent campaigns aimed at youth skills development and job creation. Countless companies in South Africa already have internship and learnership programmes in place, but more of these need to focus on generating more workplace exposure, succession, and clear growth paths. Many internship programmes often do not offer anything more than the internship, which is typically only a year; as a result, young people often hop from internship to internship and do not progress to full-time roles.

Skills shortages and the poor transitioning from “school” to the world of work are more major issues contributing to youth unemployment. Businesses need to adopt a learning culture aimed at enhancing the skills gaps of their employees to improve their performance. Young inexperienced employees within businesses can gain valuable skills that are up-to-date with today’s world of work while driving the overall business performance. The digital age has made learning easier, more fun, and cost-effective and could be a great tool that businesses can use to empower its youthful employees. It creates an inclusive and engaging work environment if implemented with the genuine aim to drive the performance of people and the business. Read: Implementing a Learning Project: 9 Key Considerations for Success.

Businesses should contribute to the youth protest in the spirit of genuinely wanting to make a difference and building tomorrow’s leaders today. Yes, there are employment equity points and other tax incentives to be earned but in the spirit of Ubuntu we have intrinsic rewards in doing the right thing.

As Nelson Mandela once said, “It is in your hands to create a better world for all who live in it”. With that being said, Wits DigitalCampus has started a Mandela Day campaign to provide 67 unemployed youth from previously disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to study at Wits University through our online short courses. Read more: 67 Learners for Mandela. This is to keep Nelson Mandela’s dream of a prosperous, unified and equal society alive and will be done in partnership with several other businesses around South Africa.

Wits DigitalCampus extends the opportunity to other businesses as well who wish to give a hand and let Mandela’s legacy live on.


3. The youth themselves

It would be somewhat pointless to implement youth empowerment programmes if the youth does not buy into them and is not eager to grow and learn. In the words of a transformative entrepreneur, Kefilwe Morobane, “Step up and show up!” Although the opportunities are there, young people need to cherish and eagerly grab them, and also be on the lookout as more and more of them arise. The dawn of the digital age has allowed the world to have access to information at their fingertips. Understandably, many young people in South Africa do not have access to the internet, but it relies on all South Africans to unite to make a difference and bring all this information to communities that do not have access.

Today’s youth protest actually goes beyond these 3 role players; every South African citizen needs to join the cause, be a stakeholder, and help build tomorrow’s South Africa today.