A young adult in South Africa today may wonder whether President Cyril Ramaphosa and she are living in the same country.
There is little in Ramaphosa’s Youth Day speech that a young adult would have recognised.
It was a cruel speech because he offered the youth of South Africa false hope.
Ramaphosa lauded ‘the brave youth of 1976, young people of our country who defied apartheid and fought for our freedom’, but one could have been forgiven for wondering why so few of today’s youth could, as Ramaphosa said, ‘reflect on the progress that we have made in empowering young people and to determine the tasks that lie ahead’.
In vintage form, Ramaphosa said that the coronavirus pandemic had had major economic and social effects on the lives of young (and old) people. ‘It has made worse already slow economic growth in our country. It has made businesses suffer, led to job losses and affected education and study.’
But the economy had virtually ground to a halt, with less than 0% growth forecast for 2020, before Covid-19 struck. Once again, Ramaphosa repeated that the pandemic had brought to the fore the ‘deep inequalities that persist in our country until today’.
In the third quarter of 2019, the youth unemployment rate was 58.2%, and 70% if people discouraged from looking for work were included. An estimated 55% of youth were unemployed in the first quarter of 2019. Ramaphosa took office in February 2018, when the first quarter youth unemployment rate was 38.2%.
In January 2020, the IRR issued a FreeFacts bulletin on the number of people who had passed matric, including those who passed well enough to be able to go to university. It showed a small increase between 2018 and 2019. However, the number of people who wrote the school-leaving examinations has been on an overall declining trend since 2013, despite the increase in population.
This, however, has not been the case for people who passed matric well enough to go to university. In 2019, a record 186 058 learners did well enough to go to university.
But the standard of school leavers is questionable, given the challenges facing the education system.
In 2008, when 2019’s matrics would have started school, there were 1 070 000 children in grade one. In 2017, when these children would have been in grade ten, there were 1 050 000 learners. However, only two years later, the number of children in matric had plummeted to just over 500 000. A very large number of children who are unlikely to pass matric are then shepherded out of the system. They are unlikely to find work or enter a vocational college.
Additionally, fewer than 80 000 of those who wrote matric passed mathematics with a mark of above 40%. Of greater concern, only 4 415 of the class of 2019 passed mathematics with a mark of 80% or higher. Put another way, less than one percent of those grade ones in 2008 managed to get above 80% for mathematics in matric twelve years later.
The vast majority of these passes would have come from well-resourced schools in the government system – partly due to the legacy of the past but also due to the failures of the current government.
Implores young people
Ramaphosa, however, implores young people to ‘rise to the challenge of leading our recovery’ and ‘our young entrepreneurs and business owners’ to create ‘new employment opportunities’.
In reality, entrepreneurship is rare. Turning under-educated youth into entrepreneurs is likely to be a complete failure. South Africa will struggle to become a prosperous, free, middle-income country if we remain on the current trajectory of school education.
To establish a successful business and employ people means the candidate has first to receive training and experience. Most small and medium-sized businesses are owned and managed by people who have trained and worked for other people for a decade or more. It is only through this combination of training, learning and experience that they may become able to run their own businesses.
Without this experience, young people haven’t a hope. And yet the ANC is determined to see business as their future domain. The ANC still does not understand that for businesses to succeed, individuals must have agency and be motivated by the possibility of making a profit. This is the single reason socialism fails – it doesn’t incentivise the individual.
In any event most people are not natural business creators; they rely on employment by people in other entities which may be large or small. This is how the world actually works.
Ramaphosa then indulges in phony puffery: ‘The remarkable potential in our young people across all sectors and spaces is undeniable and young people from time immemorial have always been driven by changing the world, by changing the way things are done, by changing the way we live, by changing unjust systems, by bringing about justice and bringing about a new world. The moment that we now confront, post COVID-19, calls on young people across the length and the breadth of our country to be part of that change and to be change agents. It also calls on young people to rebuild our economy and make a difference in the lives of our communities. It also calls on young people to be the people who are going to underpin everything they do with the best of values, who are going to be rooted in principle in creating a South Africa that we can all be proud of. I once again affirm our commitment as government to supporting young people in every stage of life.’
Myth that surrounds Youth Day
This isn’t true. Young people can contribute to change but they can’t lead it or achieve it without older people with experience. It’s the myth that surrounds Youth Day. While 16 June was a seminal moment in South African history, it did not ‘change’ South Africa. It was part of so much more that ended apartheid.
The IRR noted in a press release on 16 June: ‘That the majority of young South Africans are unemployed and unable to find jobs is a reflection of the unmet potential and lost talent that are the result of years of government decisions by politicians who’ll never experience the indignity of systemic unemployment and the denial of the right to pursue a better life.’
IRR Deputy Head of Policy Research Hermann Pretorius identified ‘labour legislation and regulations that have priced young people out of jobs’ as ‘policy pursuits of the ANC and its alliance partners in the South African Communist Party’ that had ‘seen the eradication of investment, economic growth, and job opportunities that could have created a skilled, ambitious and prosperous generation of young South Africans’.
Socialism has been a complete failure in Africa – in Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Somalia, Angola, Mozambique, Ghana, and so on.
However African countries that now embrace more free-market ideas and encourage investment anticipated significant growth in 2020. These countries include Rwanda (8.1%), Ivory Coast (7.3%), Ethiopia (7.2%), Senegal (6.8%), Benin (6.7%) and Uganda (6.2%). Kenya, Mozambique, Niger and Burkina Faso all expect 6% growth. We recognise that some of these countries come off a low base, but not all. These figures have obviously been drastically reduced by the pandemic.
South Africa, however, in the pursuit of socialism together with state capture, BEE and cadre deployment, had finance minister Tito Mboweni optimistically forecasting growth at the beginning of the year at 0.2%. South Africa’s economy is expected now to contract by over 7%. South Africa is lowering sub-Saharan Africa’s growth rate. It’s a disgrace.
[Picture: Anaya Katlego]