South Africa’s youth feeling hopeless as unemployment takes heavy toll

Even young, qualified graduates are struggling to find work in South Africa. Many feel that the country is at a tipping point as elections near

By Michelle Gumede

A large portrait of a bright-eyed young woman draped in a black graduation robe looms over a spotless, tiled lounge in Protea Glen, a suburb of Johannesburg’s Soweto township.

It is a constant and gnawing reminder of potential that has gone unrealised for ten years.

“It’s like you go to school, you go to school… and then once you are qualified you sit with a whole stack of certificates that you can’t actually use,” 36-year-old Kgomotso Sebabi said.

Armed with qualifications in wealth management, she migrated in 2008 from the small, central city of Kimberley to South Africa’s financial hub, Johannesburg, in pursuit of opportunities.

To date, the holder of two bachelor’s degrees has failed to find a job in her field.

She has since acquired three more post-graduate certificates in a bid to enhance her chances, but all she has managed to secure is a part-time job at a call centre.

“Initially I wanted to see myself grow within the financial sector, maybe become a manager… a finance chief executive or something. But it didn’t go as planned,” she told AFP.

A quarter of century into democracy, South Africa has an official unemployment rate of 27.1 percent.

Among people under 35 the rate is about 53 percent – among the highest in the world.

Causes of unemployment in South Africa are many and complex, the biggest factor being a slow-growing economy which has failed to produce jobs at the pace at which new graduates enter the market.

The government repeatedly vows, especially on the elections campaign trail, to create desperately needed jobs.

According to chief labour statistician Malerato Mosiane, unemployment remained stubbornly high even as the population grew rapidly.

Media graduate Tswelopele Maputla, 22, completed her journalism studies in November 2018 at Rhodes University, but has been nowhere near a newsroom. She mails out job applications whenever she can.

“It’s been incredibly difficult and demotivating,” said Maputla as she finished cleaning her mother’s house in Daveyton township east of Johannesburg.

“I have the skills and it’s just disheartening that I can’t get that one break that I need to prove myself.”

Votes for jobs

As South Africa heads to the polls on 8 May, the promise of jobs has once again become election bait.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed that his African National Congress (ANC) will create “many more” jobs. The party has been in power for 25 years and will, according to all polls, win the majority vote yet again.

“We will be able to create up to 275 000 additional jobs each year,” Ramaphosa said at the ANC’s election manifesto launch in January.

Mmusi Maimane, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, meanwhile recently told supporters in Johannesburg: “I have a dream of putting a job in every home.”

And Julius Malema, the firebrand leader of the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has warned that South Africa “cannot postpone the jobs question”.

But the promises are up against a lacklustre economy.

The International Monetary Fund in April lowered South Africa’s projected GDP growth rate for 2019 from 1.4 percent to 1.2 percent, citing policy uncertainty which with high levels of corruption and recurrent electricity blackouts, has harmed investor confidence.

The massive unemployment rate is seen as fuelling apathy among many young voters.

The electoral commission has recorded a 47-percent drop in registered voters aged 18 and 19. About two-thirds of the nine million eligible voters who did not bother to register are under 30 years old.

“I’m not voting,” said unemployed agriculture graduate Xhanti Ndondela, 26, who qualified in 2016. “Why should I vote for a government that I will never work for?”

‘Tipping point’

With the dawn of democracy, access to higher education has improved, with the number of graduates from public universities more than doubling from 92 874 in 2000 to 203 076 in 2016.

But there are just not enough jobs to go around.

The government’s target is to cut unemployment by half, to about 14 percent by 2020, but this is “unlikely to occur”, says the World Bank in a 2018 report.

“Overall, since 1994, a growing economy created many jobs in South Africa, but not enough to significantly reduce unemployment,” said the bank.

The former statistician-general and now Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative consultant, Pali Lehohla, has warned of a self-perpetuating crisis.

“We are caught in that process where unemployment, poor education and poverty itself are reinforcing one another. There is going to be a tipping point no doubt,” he told eNCAtelevision news network.

Source The South African


South Africa: Youth Voter Registration Drops Ahead of Election

Situation Reports

What Happened: South Africa has experienced a significant drop in youth voter registration ahead of the country’s May 8 election, News24 reported April 30.

Why It Matters: A significant decline in young voters has the potential to damage the electoral performance of a number of parties that rely on the support of younger citizens.

Background: South Africa has been ruled by the African National Congress (ANC) since the end of apartheid 25 years ago. But a new generation of South African voters with little or no memory of apartheid have less loyalty to the party, and are now threatening its control.

Source World View

Why South Africa’s youth would rather protest than go to the polls

By Gareth Newham and Miché Roberts

Young people represent a potentially powerful political force in South Africa. If they all voted, they could fundamentally change the political landscape. People under the age of 29 years old make up 21,4% of the electorate or around nine million people. If they wanted to, they could ensure that political parties and politicians would pay close attention to addressing their concerns.

Unfortunately, young people remain at the margins of politics and despite rhetoric to the contrary, are largely ignored by most political parties.

The main reason for this is that to get power, politicians tend to pay particular attention to the concerns of those who may vote for them, and most young people do not vote. Only 50% of people under the age of 29 are registered to vote in this year’s general election. This is down from 64% of this age group who registered to vote in the 2014 election.

Of those aged 18 and 19 years old, only 16% registered for this election which is less than half the proportion registered to vote in 2014. A smaller proportion will actually turn out to vote as many people register but still do not turn up at the ballot box.

This situation is not unique to South Africa. Globally, there have been declining proportions of young people partaking in democratic elections. Some analysts mistake this as a sign of young people being apathetic and uninterested in politics. But available evidence suggests otherwise. Internationally, it is an indicator of declining levels of trust in political leaders who are seen to be out of touch with the concerns of the youth.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has for a number of years conducted qualitative research to better understand the factors influencing the type of political engagement influencing young people aged 18-29. In 2016 we published our findings of interviews with over 2 000 young people in all nine provinces in both urban and rural communities. In 2018, additional research with over 200 young people was undertaken to explore whether there were any differences between young men and young women in relation to their involvement in disruptive or violent public protests.

A key finding to emerge from both sets of the research was that young people are far from apathetic. They were aware of the political dynamics in the country, held clear views on the challenges that they experienced and were more than willing to engage and act. However, they felt alienated from formal politics, have little trust in politicians and had negative experiences of government agencies from which they required services. A majority of the young people interviewed are increasingly frustrated that their grievances go unheard and are highly critical of political leaders and parties who fail to engage with them in a meaningful manner.

Young people argue that they have witnessed elections before and that their parents or older family members have always voted. However, despite this, they have not seen meaningful improvements in their communities in their lifetimes. They raised various concerns that if they believed would be meaningfully addressed by a political party, would be encouraged to vote for that party. Clustered around four main concerns, they included high unemployment, inadequate access to quality and affordable education, high levels of corruption and poor infrastructure.

The lack of employment was a common and pressing concern. Young people want to be able to become independent, assume more adult responsibilities and eventually start families of their own. However, the lack of employment means that vast numbers of them remain stuck in a precarious situation, dependent on their families, on state grants or on piecemeal jobs. Most expressed frustration at this hopeless situation.

Another challenge mentioned frequently was that of inadequate access to free, affordable and quality education. Completing a matric did not mean that they had the skills necessary to obtain employment or become successful entrepreneurs. Access to tertiary education was limited due to poor-quality public-sector education. Even those who could obtain a sufficient matric grade were faced with inadequate funding opportunities and limited access to universities or colleges.

Young people were very aware of the negative impact of ‘state capture’ and widespread local government corruption on service delivery in their communities. They perceived ward councillors and public officials as primarily self-interested, using their authority for firstly for their family and friends, even if they did not reside in the community.

Young people noticed a lack of improvements while politicians and officials appeared to be living in luxury. As a result, infrastructure related issues such as inadequate access to affordable electricity, water, housing and reliable public transport, went unaddressed.

Frequently, young people referred to involvement in public protests as a preferable way to express their grievances and to obtain a response from those in authority. Formal democratic processes such as voting, signing petitions and attending meetings were generally not seen as effective. When asked why protests sometimes turn violent, the answer typically was because communities had little choice as this was the only way to force responses from local politicians and officials.

Although engaged and motivated to take action so as to improve their situation, many young people do not recognise voting as a viable option. Although protest action and other informal modes of political engagement are important, young people could promote substantial change in holding politicians accountable if they used their vote effectively.

The question remains, what, if anything, will it take for young people to grasp the future into their hands and do the one thing that all political parties care about? That is, making a cross on the ballot paper.

– Gareth Newham and Miché Roberts are with the Justice and Violence Prevention Programme at the Institute for Security Studies.

Source News24