Cyrille Ramaphosa | We still have a mountain to climb to create more jobs, especially for young people


President Cyril Ramaphosa

Jeffrey Abrahams, Gallo Images

The latest unemployment figures show that 66.5% of young people are unemployed. No society can expect to grow or prosper when the vast majority of its young people are unemployed, writes Cyril Ramaphosa.

Dear South African friend,

Later this week, we will commemorate Youth Day in honor of the bravery and sacrifices of the generation of 1976 in their fight against an unjust and illegitimate regime.

Today, young people in South Africa face new struggles in their quest to lead a life of dignity and in search of a better life. Although we have made substantial progress in expanding opportunities for young people in basic and higher education, millions of young people remain unemployed.

While the latest employment figures give cause for optimism – some 370,000 jobs were created in the first quarter of this year – we still have a huge mountain to climb in our quest to create more jobs, especially for young people. According to Stats SA, youth unemployment in South Africa is 66.5%. No society can expect to grow or prosper when the vast majority of its young people are unemployed.

High rates of inclusive growth are needed

Our top priority as government is to achieve higher rates of inclusive growth that generate sustainable jobs at the scale of social needs.

The economic reforms we are implementing, along with measures such as industrial policy to support labour-intensive growth sectors, aim to boost growth and expand private sector employment. However, we cannot simply wait for higher growth to create jobs, especially for young people.

I am of the opinion that even though millions of people are out of work, there is no shortage of work to be done to build a better South Africa.

This is the fundamental premise of the Presidential Jobs Recovery Plan, which is designed as a once-in-a-generation effort to tackle large-scale unemployment.

READ | Unemployment rate falls, but serious challenges remain

Jobs Recovery is on track to support one million jobs through a wide range of programs, all of which help improve communities and create public goods that will last beyond work itself.

Eighty-four percent of all participants in these programs are young people and 62% are women.

The most recent initiative to be launched under the stimulus is the Social Employment Fund, which will pioneer a new and innovative approach to public employment.

The Social Fund for Employment will partner with non-governmental organizations across the country to provide “work for the common good”. This work relates to areas such as community safety, food kitchens, urban agriculture, early childhood development and addressing gender-based violence.

Work opportunities

The Social Fund for Employment will create 50,000 new job opportunities in the first phase before expanding further in subsequent phases.

The unique feature of social employment is that it recognizes that the unemployed in communities are a powerful resource for development, not a ‘problem’ to be solved.

We have many real problems to solve – from improving waste collection to creating safe and beautiful public spaces – that need work, and lots of people willing to do it.

READ | How basic digital literacy can give rural youth a fighting chance in the 21st century workplace

Not only does social employment provide income to participants by supporting local initiatives to meet local needs; social employment can also unleash creativity and agency, develop local participation and strengthen mutual support systems in communities.

Another important program that has now come into effect, and which I announced in the State of the Nation Address, is a revitalized National Youth Service.

This program will create an additional 50,000 jobs for unemployed young people performing acts of service across the country, while providing much-needed work experience and reinforcing the value of active citizenship.

Recruitment of participants for social employment and youth service is ongoing.

What these programs show is that public employment can achieve several objectives at the same time. These include fighting unemployment, building skills and experience, providing public goods and services and, perhaps most important of all, contributing to a massive national effort to improve the state of our country.

Decline due to Covid-19

Despite the great setback caused by Covid-19, our economy is slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels. As a government, we will continue to champion programs and initiatives that limit the impact of unemployment on young people until the private sector begins to create more jobs at scale.

I call on businesses once again to join in this effort by employing more young people, using the employee tax incentive and other measures, and supporting and buying from businesses owned and run by youth.

On this Youth Day, as we recall the struggles of our past, let us remain firmly focused on the work we are doing – including through our innovative public employment programs – to build a better future for all young people in our country.

With my best wishes.

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