The seat of Youth on the table of South Africa’s economy
By Prudy Matsebula
2023 marks 47 years since the June 16 Students’ Uprisings took place when the youth of 1976 took to the streets to demonstrate against the introduction of Afrikaans as a medium of teaching and learning in South African black schools. It is estimated that 20 000 students took part in the mass demonstrations which were met with brute force from the South African police, resulting in many deaths of students.
The tragic events of 1976 started with the resistance against Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974 (apartheid policy), which was introduced without consultation. Attempts to engage and negotiate with the then apartheid government to re-think the policy were futile, which caused the anger that exploded in the streets. To date, these demonstrations are a reminder of the power held by the youth under difficult circumstances, and should also serve as a reminder of how the youth of this country once stood up against a repressive and violent regime, thereby making history that should serve as an inspiration for today’s youth. The blood shed from the 1976 Students’ Uprising should be remembered as a tragedy that should never be in vain. The Student Uprisings should be counted as a historical moment which informs us of the need to include youth in social and economic affairs. The participation of youth in a number of spheres of society has become difficult especially on the issue of inclusion in the mainstream of the South African economy, since 1994.
The many socio-economic challenges experienced by the youth need to be confronted and the government has a critical role in this regard. Government policies and legislation such as the Broad Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) Act of 2003 (amended by 46 of 2013) are vital instruments to address issues of inequality, empowerment and inclusion of black people into the mainstream economy from which youth should benefit. There are opportunities for youth owned businesses in B-BBEE policy that youth must learn about and take advantage of. For example, Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) is one of the elements of B-BBEE that provide opportunities for businesses owned by the youth to grow and break into highly competitive markets.
The B-BBEE Commission, which was established in 2016, has played a crucial role in monitoring the implementation of B-BBEE, with the intention to ensure that there is adequate inclusion of black people in the mainstream economy. The recent report of the B-BBEE Commission on the effective implementation of ESD funds, shows that the total expenditure for ESD in 2021 by measured entities amounted to R26 Billion; with some youth businesses benefiting from the spend. This shows the potential of ESD to support businesses, both large and small, as well as those owned by the youth. There is room for improving the implementation if ESD and B-BBEE in general. In this way, the youth can obtain their seat in the economy of South Africa. The commitment from public and private sectors towards ESD should be full exploited by youth entrepreneurs. This needs to be done with a well-coordinated effort between the public and private sector to address the issues faced by the youth. When all parties are coordinated and working together, this will advance the empowerment and economic inclusion of youth and other designated groups.
There are some pockets of success in the creation of successful businesses, as we have seen young South Africans establishing emerging brands and products over a period of time. South Africa has an advantage of the inspirational stories of how some youth are able to start businesses with minimal funding, bearing in mind that 63% of the population of South Africa who will drive the future of the economy. If we joined hands as communities and vowed to invest enough efforts and resources on ensuring that youth participate in the economy, a lot can be achieved. Everything that makes it possible for youth to rise above the present challenges comes with information, especially access to opportunities.
In a country with an unemployment rate of 32.9% in which the youth accounts for 45.5%, there should be a well-coordinated effort involving all sectors and government, (including public entities) to create a conducive and supportive environment for youth inclusion in the mainstream economy in a productive and sustainable way; youth could employ one another through their businesses but enabled by ESD from private and public sectors.
If our economy remains untransformed and continues to exclude young people, it means the country squanders its potential for a sustainable and better future, and the sacrifices of the Students of 1976 will be in vain. The country must avoid this at all costs.