Youth Development Should Translate into Economic Opportunities
Today we remember the sacrifices made on this day in 1976. However, in order to truly commemorate Youth Day, it needs to be about more than just free food and t-shirts. It needs to ensure that the freedom that was earned with blood and sweat in 1976 translates into real freedom for the youth of today - economic freedom in particular.
To this end, I am encouraged and excited about the Provincial Skills Development Forum (PSDF) that was launched by the Premier of the Western Cape earlier this month. The primary purpose of the PSDF will be to coordinate skills development in the Western Cape so as to ensure that skills development interventions translate into real opportunities for our citizens. In other words, the PSDF will bring all three spheres of government, higher education, organised labour and business together so that the skills young people are equipped with are in fact the skills needed to stimulate economic growth in the province.
Young people today face many challenges, with poverty, teenage pregnancies, unemployment, substance abuse and gangsterism on the forefront.
When a young girl grows up in the grip of poverty, falls pregnant at the age of 15 and leaves school to look after her baby, she not only shuts down her own opportunities, but also condemns her child to a life of poverty. Is she free?
When a young boy chooses the glamour of gangsterism over the rigid rules at primary school, he cuts off his opportunities on the spot, and by the time he realises that only the top dog makes the money, it's too late. Is he free?
There is a need to develop a culture of self-sufficiency, and not state dependency. You need to choose whether you want to be economically free, or wait in line for a grant that keeps you locked in a cycle of poverty.
Substance abuse - drugs are so freely available and once hooked, so few young people manage to escape from the claws of addiction. While rehab and treatment centres are growing, the demand by far outweighs the supply. The only way to not get hooked is to not even try it. It robs you of your chance to make something of your life.
Today though, you have so much more opportunities at your disposal. There may be some of you here today who have been in conflict with the law, or you may have a friend who has made some mistakes that got him or her into trouble with the law. That does not have to be the end of the road. Through the Crysalis Academy, we will this year be taking in 500 young people, many of them youth at risk, who will be trained, not only with soft skills, but will be taught practical skills that allow them to grab hold of employment opportunities that come their way. From carpentry to photography, we want to constantly improve and adapt the programme to tie in with the demands out there.
Last year I held an inaugural youth safety ambassador camp, and several follow-up events have subsequently followed. This programme involved equipping young people with invaluable life skills that they are in turn able to share with their peers, and in so doing, create alternatives to anti-social behaviour leading to substance abuse and crime. Not only does this programme equip them with skills going forward, but it also unpacks their current situation, so as to get a deeper understanding of the real challenges they face in their homes and in their communities, so as to better empower them to conquer these challenges and obstacles.
In the open opportunity society, we believe that every possible opportunity should be extended to young people to better their lives. In terms of job creation, government has to create the the private sector to create jobs. I am encouraged by Minister Pravin Gordhan's move toward wage subsidies.
In my department we have budgeted for 400 interns and this process is already well underway - these are opportunities for 400 young people to change the course of their lives. Some of them may later be absorbed into permanent positions, but all of them will be equipped with skills, experience and knowledge that allows them to tackle bigger opportunities that may come their way in the future.
Access to quality education on a tertiary level should not be barred due to financial constraints. There is currently a process underway to engage with the Minister of Higher Education, for key reforms to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). What we would like to see is an increase in the NSFAS qualifying threshold so that working class students like many of you may also benefit from the millions of rands worth of bursaries going unspent every year.
There are several departments running various youth development programmes. One of the first things I am looking at is a consolidation of all these programmes. It also allows us to draw on additional resources and expand opportunities to more young people, even in rural areas.
It was in fact Franklin D Roosevelt who said that we cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.
I thank you.
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