The Deputy Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), Ms Sylvia Lucas, opened Youth Parliament by noting that the 2020 Youth Parliament took place at the time when the country is commemorating two significant milestones: the 44th and 65th anniversaries of 1976 youth uprising and the inception of the Freedom Charter respectively. These momentous moments in our living history continue to have an indelible effect on our country’s political trajectory.  

High youth unemployment is a risk to the ideals of an inclusive society, Ms Lucas said. “Especially as it affects the African female and youth. We must ensure we address this challenge, which is a transmission of spatial and gender inequality and which perpetuates intergenerational poverty.”

While the Covid-19 pandemic is placing enormous strain on our society, it also provides an opportunity to change. As such, “we must turn our back on old forms of doing things and adopt new ways of dealing with the future.” The youth of today should, therefore, “accept its call, as the 1976 youth did and fashion its own weapons to fight this battle”.

Speaking on the role of young parliamentarians in advancing a youth agenda, Ms Dibolelo Mahlatsi (African National Congress, National Assembly) also drew a historical parallel between the inception of Freedom Charter and the 1976 youth uprising. The names of the heroes of the 1976 uprising should never be forgotten. “They must ring in the minds of the descendants of apartheid. Because it’s their sacrifices that shaped the landscape of South African politics.”

Like the youth of yesteryear, the youth of today can play a vital role in changing its current circumstances, she contested. “The youth of today must ask itself what it has done to deal with current challenges of youth unemployment, poverty and inequality.” She called on the youth to agitate for radical economic transformation, because “youth unemployment is an indictment when so many of us are educated but we can’t find jobs”.

It is a fallacy to think that 26 years of freedom could wipe away 300 years of apartheid and colonialism. “To this day, South Africa remains a colonial outpost of a different type. Where the major of its people who are black languish in poverty and the minority that is white is enjoying the gains our freedom and democracy.”

In his address on the NCOP’s role in advancing youth economic empowerment, the Free State Province’s permanent delegate to the NCOP, Mr Itumeleng Ntsube (African National Congress) said what distinguishes the youth of today from the youth of yesteryear is that the latter were more united and had a common vision and values.

He urged the youth of today to unite to fight gender-based violence. “We should, as youth, strive for the upliftment of women, because if you uplift a woman, you uplift a nation.” He also urged the government to review the basic education curriculum to “ensure that it’s not aimed at producing job seekers, but rather job creators”. He also challenged the NCOP to leverage its influence to ensure that “40% of all departments’ employment is set aside for the youth”.

 Providing an integrated planning perspective to advance youth empowerment at local government, a representative from South African Local Government Association (Salga), Mr Hlumgwane, attested to the fact that statistically Covid-19 has exacerbated youth unemployment challenges. He also recognised the fact that municipalities have a greater role to play in curbing youth unemployment. As a sector he said: “We have integrated policies to drive youth empowerment. We have programmes that are aimed at mainstreaming youth empowerment, which involve the private sector and non-governmental organisations that respond to youth empowerment.

“We have internship and learnership programmes,” Mr Hlumgwane continued. “We offer bursaries to deserving children from indigent families and we also have agricultural programmes to empower youth in rural areas with necessary skills to exploit the value chain of this sector. As a country, we need an integrated approach to harness past experiences and current policy directives to confront the multiple challenges facing the youth of today. Salga has a role in that and will harness all the empowerment instruments at our disposal to bring about a practical change to the plight of the youth.”

Abel Mputing

26 June 2020