The greatest struggle young people face in South Africa is unemployment, something that has worsened under the Covid-19 pandemic, says president Cyril Ramaphosa.
Writing in his weekly open letter to the public, Ramaphosa said that creating more opportunities for young people, and supporting young people to access these opportunities, is the government’s foremost priority.
“Everything that we do as a government contributes towards improving the lives of young people,” he said. “Tackling youth unemployment requires accelerating economic growth, particularly in labour-intensive sectors, and building the capability of the state to fulfil its developmental role.”
Ramaphosa said that high unemployment would be dealt with through a series of targeted interventions, including the establishment of a National Pathway Management Network, ‘SA Youth’, to make it easier for young people to view and access opportunities and receive active support to find pathways into the labour market.
These are among the priority actions of the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention, which was launched just weeks before the country entered a national lockdown last year and which is now entering full implementation, he said.
“The Presidential Youth Employment Intervention was built on the understanding that to address the youth unemployment crisis requires innovative thinking and strong partnerships across society.
“Its ultimate objective is to find models that work, whether in skills development or active labour market policies, and to scale these models rapidly to reach as many young people as possible.
“Most importantly, it recognises that young people must be at the centre of any effort to boost youth employment. Young people are our greatest asset, and our greatest weapon in this fight,” he said.
Data published by Statistics South Africa at the start of June shows that the official unemployment rate among youth (15-34 years) was 46.3% in Q1 2021.
The data shows that of the 7.2 million unemployed persons in the first quarter of 2021, more than half (52.4%) had education levels below matric, followed by those with matric at 37.7%.
Only 2.1% of unemployed persons were graduates, while 7.5% had other tertiary qualifications as their highest level of education.
StasSA’s data also showed that 91.3% of the employed continued to receive pay during lockdown compared to 88.9% in Q4:2020. 14% of those who received pay during lockdown were paid reduced salaries.
Separate data published by labour minister Thulas Nxesi shows that approximately 1.3 million people aged 15-24 sit without work in South Africa for at least three months, while the vast majority of these people (over 1 million) are stuck without work for a minimum of 12 months.
This is exacerbated by low levels of education, where the largest proportion of unemployed youth are those with a matric, or without any formal qualifications at all (1.23 million), and these South Africans are also the least likely to find any formal employment over a longer period of time.