/Could a new covenant with SANDFs help be the answer to youth unemployment?

Could a new covenant with SANDFs help be the answer to youth unemployment?

2019-06-04 05:00

Is it not time to consider post-school training programs in collaboration with the defence force that could provide basic soft skills such as discipline, as well as technical competence for unemployed young people, asks Mamphela Ramphele.

We need a ‘new covenant’ with the young people of our society as a visible aspect of the New Dawn to mark the Youth Month celebrations this year. 

A new covenant would not only make good the betrayal of the dreams of the 7.2 million unemployed young people, but also guide our efforts to unleash their energy and talents to spark the socio-economic transformation essential for our sustained prosperity as a nation.

Inge Beukes, a University of Pretoria LLB student, in the 2/6/19 City Press article, makes an impassioned plea for systemic comprehensive interventions to end the despair and rage that is destroying the future of young people, and putting our society at risk.

My comments are also inspired by Marius Oosthuizen’s article, in Business Day 17/5/2019, that calls for a new systemic approach to overcome the legacy of apartheid and build an inclusive prosperous future together. Oosthuizen urges us to understand that to undo the legacy of a deliberately designed complex system to generate and sustain white privilege requires attention to the complexity and systemic interventions. 

The last 25 years have been characterised by multiple linear resource-intensive interventions from BBBEE, education and training, social grants and RDP houses, that have done little to eradicate poverty and inequality.  They have however yielded huge benefits for a very few well-connected people exacerbating inequality. Our failure to dismantle the pillars of the complex apartheid machinery has ensured sustainable generation of exponential rents for a few at the expense of many. 

President Ramaphosa’s reconfigured national executive has the potential to start weaving together a vision of what a society free of poverty and inequities and that generates prosperity would look like in 25 years’ time. This would require reimagining our cities, towns, villages and key infrastructures that link together the physical and psycho-social fabric of our nation.  

Imagine if the government would identify pilot cities, towns and rural areas where systemic integrated development could be implemented. A systems approach to tackling such a complex task would enable collaboration between a number of departments: public works and infrastructure, human settlements, economic development, land reform and rural development.

Leveraging the wealth of science and technology expertise in urban planning, water and sanitation, agriculture and renewable energy to reimagine and redesign development programs to undo apartheid spatial geography could create sustainable prosperity. Such developments would crowd in private sector investment and become magnets for young energetic entrepreneurs to create clusters of economic ventures.

In addition, our country sits on a huge underutilised asset for the YES program announced by our president last year – our national defence force infrastructure. Lessons from some other countries, including the USA, demonstrate the benefits of utilising the national defence force to contribute to workforce training and logistical support in non-combat situations. A recent study showed that 18.9% of annual GDP growth 1949-2014 in the USA could be attributable to human capital investments through personnel and education efforts, from entry-level training to technical specialities to higher-level professional training. 

We also need to learn from the positive outcomes of the SANDF recruitment and training of young people from across the population in the former homelands, many of whom are today’s professionals and technically competent artisans. It would be worth following up on the outcomes of a training program for 5 000 young people announced in March 2018 by then premier of the Eastern Cape – The Infrastructure Maintenance Youth Programme in collaboration with our defence force.   

Is it not time to consider post-school training programs in collaboration with the defence force for 18-24 months that could provide basic soft skills such as discipline, self-knowledge and personal mastery, as well as technical competence for the millions of unemployed young people? Such a program would be more successful than the current open-ended YES program outsourced to private and civil society entities. Some of these entities may not have the appropriate capacity to enable young people to become work ready for absorption in public and private sectors as well for self-employment.

The New Covenant with young people needs to guarantee every child free high-quality education, including civic education as part of the Life Orientation curriculum. This would ensure that our schools graduate responsible citizens who know their rights and are willing to apply themselves to post-school training to equip themselves for life.

Mr President, you have the opportunity to ride the wave of an energised youth population ready to be sent to become contributors to a reimagined society free of the humiliating designed dysfunctionality of the legacy of apartheid. This covenant could be the best tribute we pay to the generation of June 16,1976 who sacrificed their youth to birth our constitutional democracy. 

– Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.

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