As the world cajoles itself to yet another year that would seemingly be equally challenging for every respective country, it is at such a time that a self-introspection lens is taken by each nation as it looks ahead and asks itself what the possible solutions to the myriad scourges on their doorstep are.
It is never a simple question, that requires simple answers. Most countries around the world are in a state of flux, South Africa included. South Africa’s well-documented scourges, which have in recent years attracted global headlines, incessantly labelled the triple challenges of inequality, poverty, and unemployment.
The latter, to some extent, is inconceivably linked with the first two scourges. This link has produced dire ramifications for South Africa, with other worrying crimes such as gender-based violence, murder, and robbery, being the most prevalent among a plethora of other societal ills.
South Africa’s population is dominated by young people. This is the same age group that is largely affected by unemployment. In a population of 60.6 million people, yet, according to Statistics SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey, for the second quarter of 2022, there are 4,8 million young people between the ages of 15 and 34 who are unemployed – while there are 8 million unemployed South Africans in total. What these statistics also revealed is how most young people have since lost any desire to seek employment.
We need to see a reduction of these discouraging statistics, and the first step would really be to see the private sector getting more involved, with solutions, even those curated towards the redefinition of public-private partnerships. This cannot be accepted and taken as business usual, as yet another day in a South Africa that seeks to normalise youth inequality, and how they are ostracised from being active economic participants.
Business leaders in South Africa, often quick to point out all the policy and lack of implementation faults within government, should also do more beyond the mere boardroom talk as our young people need urgent assistance from the private sector. Solutions to our unemployment crisis can earnestly begin with a much-needed investment in youth leadership development.
Young people know and appreciate key elements associated with institutional memory, but that does not mean they should not be allowed to lead, particularly on a widespread challenge such as youth unemployment, which is a ticking time that equally threatens our social security.
A different approach is needed. An approach that would appreciate the current schooling system’s shortfalls, which continues to arrest the high dropouts of young kids whose education journey can be traced from grade 1 to matric. These are the burning issues businesses should be interested in and start asking hard questions such as how the private sector can get involved in an endeavour to produce superior matriculants, who can chip in as solutions are needed towards economic growth, for instance.
This different approach, which the private sector should by now be aware of, is one where business’ involvement goes beyond the mere offering of a bursary – rather, it may be prudent to further look where such a talented matriculant comes from, and how further, practical investments can be made into such an area, with an eye not only on uncovering smart learners but how this same cohort of pupils can be economically active in the same area they come from?
South Africa has numerous business formations, such as the Business Leadership SA, Black Business Council, Business Unity SA, and Black Management Forum, these are organisations with an influential voice, one that we sadly miss when it comes to playing a more nuanced role as a plural social compact is sought.
The plurality of this social compact cannot be the sole responsibility of government, though the state has had its fair share of failures, these should be reason enough to propel the private sector to get involved. The excuse that the government’s buy-in is needed is tiring, after Covid-19 and its deadly effects, the world has changed. We have seen how, post-Covid-19, the poor are getting poorer in South Africa, while they are equally faced with continued living in squalid conditions.
Increasingly, the world is moving towards private sector-based solutions that are concentrated on a plural social compact, one whose solutions are adequately curated to address socio-economic challenges, mostly impacting our young people.