Working Together to Build Limitless Opportunities for the Youth for a Better South Africa | Western Cape Government

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Working Together to Build Limitless Opportunities for the Youth for a Better South Africa

7 June 2012

Honourable Chairperson of the NCOP, Honourable Members of the NCOP, Ladies and Gentlemen.

During this Youth Month, we honour the leadership of the class of 1976, who paid a great price for South Africa's freedom. Grief, it has been said, is the price of love, and their memory will never be extinguished. In 1976, I was myself a young person of 25, embarking on a career in journalism at the Rand Daily Mail and acutely aware of the political challenges that confronted all young South Africans in different ways. I witnessed the Soweto uprising - the start of countrywide uprising - first hand. We were all constrained by the brutality of the apartheid system, and black South Africans were constrained in a particularly oppressive manner.

Last month saw thousands of young people marching to protest against the economic shackles created by COSATU's opposition to the youth wage subsidy scheme. COSATU's stance, backed up by violence, seeks to limit economic opportunities for young people, effectively keeping them in the bondage of unemployment, which we know is highest among the 15 - 34 age group, at a rate of over 50%. And we have a President who is prepared to sacrifice the future of hundreds of thousands of young people to get himself re-elected at Mangaung. He needs to pander to COSATU for their votes at Mangaung, which is why he has not implemented the youth wage subsidy as he promised to do in his State of the Nation Address, and he has allowed R5 billion to rot in the budget that was meant to be spent on jobs.

We must see the warning signs early. Our youth are crying out for fair opportunities, as they were in the years leading up to the 1976 uprising. The authorities turned a deaf ear then. We dare not do so now.

Contrary to some stereotypes, most young people lead responsible lives. Many are genuinely committed and impatient to put right the wrongs of our broken society. Furthermore, this digitally-savvy generation is the most innovative ever.

I also, sadly, meet some young people who have been broken by this world. My government's job is to give them the opportunities to mend. The Western Cape Government's approach is preventative, as it is comprehensive. We tailor special measures to intervene in families and communities with deep-rooted problems early on.

The most fundamental need for a young person is the need for identity, recognition and affirmation. Often we have a tendency to speak about "the youth" as if they are all the same. The patronising pretext is that we, the decision-makers, need to do something for "the youth", not with them. I believe this has been the fundamental error of the national government in framing policies that affect young people.

As Premier of the Western Cape, I do not treat youth policy as an abstraction or distraction. We drive youth policy everywhere in the government we lead.

Neither do we jump to conclusions in our evidence-based policymaking. For a long time before the DA was voted in to take over the provincial government, many decisions had been based on scant or no dialogue with, nor input from, experts and young people themselves. The wrong analysis led to the wrong conclusion, and led to the wrong intervention.

Every encounter with a young person is a different and diverse experience. Yet I am also impressed by how young people unify around broadly shared goals, hopes and dreams. Everyone wants a decent start in education and an opportunity to get ahead. This Parliament needs to help give young people hope and the will to persevere.

Whenever a policy is proposed, I try to find the human interest behind the number and weigh the evidence. I quickly realised that there was an angle missing from the Youth Wage Subsidy debate - that is, its multiplying effect. Many thousands of people will benefit from the over 100 000 jobs that would be created.

How does this work? People are more than individuals. We belong to multiple types of families, extended families and communities of every colour, creed, language and sexual orientation.

I doubt there is anyone here today who started off in their ideal job. Did you? I did not. In fact, I got my first job through a labour broker called Kelly Girl and I felt very fortunate to have a job at all at that time. I wonder how many of us here held down jobs that Mr Vavi and COSATU might denounce, but that gave us a crucial first opportunity to prove ourselves. An opportunity for that first crucial job is what the youth wage subsidy is designed to achieve.

Sometimes the state simply cannot fill the middle layer of need. There are not social grants for everything. An elder sibling may depend on the Youth Wage Subsidy to pay towards a younger sibling's education or to ensure that a grandparent has warm clothes. And let us not forget the bigger picture - the HIV-AIDS epidemic left a generation of child-headed households.

The Western Cape has responded by being the first to pioneer a model of the youth wage subsidy. Every youngster that I have spoken to who has benefitted from it has mentioned this ripple effect. This, of course, is quite apart from the extra demand for goods and services created with more people in work and money in circulation.

It is clear to all, the opponents of the youth wage subsidy are out of excuses.

There is no empirical evidence that the youth wage subsidy will cost older workers their jobs and lead to de facto casualisation. Nor is it true that people lose jobs the moment they are too old to fall within the confines of the youth subsidy.

As a parent and educator, I realised a long time ago that schools are the most consistent structures in many children's lives. Government has an important and specific role to play in fixing our education system. The Western Cape Government, and everywhere the DA is in government, acts upon the conviction that we live in a world in which education defines a person's chances.

I agree with President Jacob Zuma that every teacher should be in class teaching and every learner should be in class learning for seven hours a day.

In the Western Cape, matric examiners are being tested in ten big-enrolment subjects in order to ensure competence. The important thing is to be strict and enforce these sound policy proposals, rather than cower weak-kneed before a certain teachers' union which puts the comfort of their members above the interest of the child, and prefers mediocrity to excellence.

How anyone can reasonably object to assessing that a teacher has the required competence and understanding of subject matter that we expect the learners to know is beyond me. Yet this is exactly how SADTU holds other provinces to ransom. This will not suffice in the DA-led Western Cape and, as provincial government, we are implementing three key strategic interventions to promote the chances of young people to get jobs and live lives they can value.

First, we are fixing the province's education system to ensure that young people receive the specific skills and training that employers want. Our matric pass levels are rising fast and are the best in the country, with the Matric Class of 2011 achieving an overall rate of 84.7%, up from 78.9% the previous year, if we include the results of supplementary exams.

It is one thing to get education right but how do we create a bridge to the world of work? We also need a sustained and well-evidenced approach to support young people after they leave school.

This is why, as a second intervention, we are implementing a pilot programme for the youth wage subsidy scheme in the form of our Work and Skills Programme for 100 000. One of the biggest problems regarding youth unemployment is the mismatch between skills supply and demand. The Work and Skills Programme is targeted at providing jobless young people who have matric or an equivalent qualification with the opportunity to take part in a six-month work placement programme.

Sponsored by the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism, recipients in the programme receive a stipend of R1 200, which partner companies are encouraged to top up. The aim is to give young people experience, skills and confidence as they gain a foothold in the job market. This programme is a practical example of our vision of the youth wage subsidy scheme. However, it should be implemented urgently on a much larger scale to achieve a deeper and more meaningful impact across South Africa.

A third intervention of our government is the Premier's Advancement of Youth (PAY) project, the purpose of which is to provide post-matric learners with work and learning experience. We have started off placing almost 850 young people from disadvantaged communities in internships within departments of the provincial government since last month. These young people are gaining real work experience and being assisted to build a strong foundation for future career development.

These three strategic interventions are smaller in scale than we want them to be at the moment and limited by finance. We will expand them as more and more companies and departments become involved, and monies are released. The evidence is clear though: they work.

Then there is the question of what I, as a premier and parent, expect of young people. Today we celebrate the young people of 1976 who did not just wait for something to happen. They did something great.

So when I invite young people to join the DA-led Western Cape Government's vision, I am inviting them to become part of a movement of social change in every neighbourhood and community. We want to see a new generation of mentors and role models - young people who find satisfaction in being the best they can be so that South Africa can become the best that it can be.

One thing is certain: the youth are standing up, being counted, voting, organising and marching.

I believe the age of youth activism, symbolised by the Class of 1976, is rising again. This Parliament has a responsibility to ensure that the youth's hopes and dreams are honoured.

I thank you.

Media Enquiries: 

Zak Mbhele

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