Unfortunately, fast forward to 2022 in South Africa and we see millions of youth languishing in despair! The biggest threat to South Africa’s sustainability is youth unemployment. It lies at the heart of most of our social ills and is one of the clearest examples of South Africa’s failure as a nation. High levels of drug abuse, gangsterism, poor education and a lack of relevant skills have relegated many of our youth unemployed and unemployable. It’s not surprising that the Quarterly Labour Force Review (2022) show youth unemployment at over 60%! That in 28 years of our democracy the South African government cannot develop a viable plan to improve education or come up with solutions is shocking! Our youth are our nation’s assets. They are the leaders of tomorrow. Therefore, much more should be done to skill, empower and nurture them so that they can competently and responsibly embrace the challenges that lay ahead.
The recent racial incident at Stellenbosch University of a white student urinating on a black student’s books should not be seen as an isolated individual incident. It manifests a collective failure of a society that is not doing enough to instil ethical values into our youth. South Africa is the world leader in crime, sexual and domestic violence. An important question therefore is, do we as a society role model worthy values to our youth? The Zondo Commission reports have revealed the shameful behaviour by our political leaders and their rampant corruption in state and corporate entities. Thus, can we blame our youth for often acting destructively when so many of their ‘role models’ – politicians, drug lords and other social media ‘influencers’ act in worse ways?
‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is a well-known African proverb. Behaviour and personal conduct is learnt from role modeling. Therefore the task of building capable and ethically minded youth who can assume the responsibility of managing and leading in a complex world rests with all who have custodianship over our youth – parents, faith based organisations, government agencies, education sector.
Fortunately, all is not lost. Many youth have shown that they can harness their zest, energy and innovation to create opportunities for themselves, in spite of governments’ lethargy. This was evident at the recent African Start-Up Awards held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (14–15 June 2022). Young Africans from the length and breadth of the African continent, eloquently, confidently and competently presented their start-up innovative ideas across various sectors which included health, finance, food security and environment.
Youth who ‘show up’ as entrepreneurs to create a start-up, demonstrate the first habit identified by Dr Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989), that is, to be proactive! Self-starters and those who can anticipate trends and respond accordingly, who can weave through difficult situations and who can tap synergy from people and diverse disciplines, are better prepared to cope with life's challenges. The new economies that include amongst others, the services sector, artificial intelligence, data management and clean energy, are rapidly evolving and bringing along many new opportunities. Proactive youth should not only participate in these innovative technologies, but indeed aim to lead them. Hence emerging challenges, locally and internationally, present exciting opportunities to develop new skills and leverage economic opportunities.
To become proactive, youth have to liberate themselves from dependence on government. They need to take ownership of their own destinies and prepare themselves for a rapidly changing, complex and uncertain world. Access to broadband internet connectivity enables youth to source multiple online platforms and resources where they can skill themselves, network and engage with people or opportunities in a productive way. However, the new and emerging economies are globally competitive and want nothing short of the very best solutions and the most qualified to implement them. Therefore, excellence, in any professional endeavour, must prevail above all else.
Youth have the time advantage on their side. They can risk failure because there is no doubt that fortune favours the bold. This is one of the main reasons why so many immigrants are able to eke out a living; they often cannot access social security and therefore have to be entrepreneurial. Work opportunities, whether paid or voluntary, formal or informal, provide opportunities for learning and growth. Stories abound of successful entrepreneurs who have had very humble beginnings and who later thrived despite overwhelming odds.
Failure to empower our youth not only places our future at risk, but is a recipe for more social problems. The anger manifesting on our streets is no different to the ‘Arab Spring’ that plunged many countries in the Middle East into turmoil. It is only a matter of time before our youth bulge explodes into the same ‘scorched earth’ cycle of violence that we see happening in many neighbourhoods. Time is not on our side!