Elections a Chance to Call Politicians to Account

Cape Times (South Africa), November 24, 2008 | Go to article overview

Elections a Chance to Call Politicians to Account


BYLINE: Nqabayomzi Kwankwa

"All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem."

These words by Dr Martin Luther King jun resonate with the South African experience of a nation deeply polarised by a dichotomy between political and economic transformation.

Politically, South Africa has seen a miraculously bloodless transition that ushered in a new era of hope, during which the crown changed hands from the old guard to the new, but the jewels remained largely untouched in the same old hands.

It is precisely because of this acute predicament of possessing political power without any significant economic power that the ruling party opted to pursue income redistribution policies such as Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE), among others.

Much of the economic progress South Africa has made thus far has left youth largely at the periphery of economic activity.

According to the "Census 2001: Stages in the life cycle of South Africans" report published in 2005, there were 17.5 million young people aged between 14-34 years. Put differently, four in every ten people counted fell within the youth category or, youth constitute almost 40% of the population. When broken down even further, of this 17.5 million, 10.3 million were between the ages of 14 and 24, while the remaining 7.2 million were between the ages of 25 and 34.

Youth unemployment, estimated at between 60% and 70%, is the single largest menace to national stability since the dawn of democracy.

The high idleness and unemployment rate among youth could be ascribed to a variety of reasons, ranging from low to virtually no literacy skills, and no career skills due to the poor quality of education at many of our public schools. The neglect and frustration felt by many young people causes them to engage in anti-social behaviour. The violence and murder in areas such as Nyanga, a murder capital case in point, offer a reason why we can no longer afford to sit back and indulge in the sophistry of arm chair analysis.

Fundamentally, we need closer integration of youth development programmes to deal with challenges of access to good quality education, youth unemployment, HIV/Aids, mother tongue education, outrageous levels of teenage pregnancy, youth and affirmative action and racism at all institutions of learning, to undo the debilitating effect caused by the current butterfly approach.

However, not all is doom and gloom on the youth development front. For instance, according to the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) conducted by the UCT Business School, youth are slowly acquiring the correct set of technical and soft skills required to graduate to high-value markets.

Furthermore, the research finding by the GEM study that the Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu- Natal have been identified as "South Africa's entrepreneurship hubs", points to a wealth of experience and success stories to replicate in other provinces. The GEM study also found some notable improvements in the number of young people who completed secondary and tertiary training from 2004 to 2006, as these skills are required to ensure young people's competitive edge and their marketability.

We were jolted into action and out of the slumber of our comfort zone by a feeling that can best be described by a quote from the poem On another's sorrow by William Blake, when he says "Can I see another's woe and not be in sorrow too? Can I see another's grief and not seek for kind relief? - O no! never can it be".

We made a call in 2006 to all young people to unite behind the establishment of an organisation of young people, by young people, that could draft youth development programmes with specific focus areas, informed by young people themselves. …

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