On Youth Day we shall once again focus national attention on our young people – not only on where they have come from since 1976 – but where they are today, and where they will be going in the future.
South Africans below the age of 25 make up more than half our total population. Those below the age of 20 comprise a little more than 41% of our people. Who are they? How are they living? What are their hopes for the future?
Although more than 14 million of the 20 million kids below the age of 20 are at school, their expectations of a decent education are poor. Of the 1,055,397 children who entered the school system in 2000, only 496,593 made it to Grade 12 in 2011. Of these, 348,117 passed matric (that is three subjects with 30% and three with 40%) – but only some 120,000 received university exemption. This means that 67% of the children in the age cohort dropped out of the education system without matric – and only 12% emerged with a decent educational qualification. One of the contributing factors to early school drop-outs is teenage pregnancy. From 2009 to 2011, 11% of girls between the ages of 13 and 19 had been pregnant during the preceding year.
Education outcomes between population groups vary significantly. Children from Afrikaans single-medium schools have a matric pass rate of 99.5%. Young whites and Asians also have a much higher expectation of going to university than other communities. In 2011, 20% of whites between the ages of 19 and 28 were at university, compared with 15% of Asians in the same age group. (However, whites comprised only 21% of students at our universities.) For coloured and black South Africans the figures were only 3.8% and 3.5% respectively.
And what of the conditions in which children live? Perhaps the most significant – and debilitating – is that only a third of our children are living with both of their parents. Once again, the cards are stacked against black children: less than 29% have both parents at home – compared with 50% among coloureds; 80% among whites and 83% among Asians. Nine million children are growing up with absent but living fathers.
Two million children have lost one parent, mostly through AIDS, and nearly a million have lost both parents. As a result, there are some 98,000 children living in child-headed households. The devastation caused by AIDS is evident from the fact that 377,000 children require anti-retroviral treatment. That is enough to fill seven Ellis Park stadiums.
And what of the other living conditions at home? 12% of our children live in informal shacks. However, almost 83% live in households with access to electricity. 89.5% have access to piped water and 95% to toilets. 90% have landlines or cell phones in their homes – and in 32% of households at least one member has access to the internet.
Economic prospects for most of our children are poor. Only 57% of them live in households where the main source of income is from salaries. 24.3% subsist on grants and the pensions of their grandparents and another 9.5% of households rely primarily on remittances from friends and family. However, most disheartening is the fact that 74% of people below the age of 25 are unemployed, and most have very little prospect – in the present conditions – of getting a job before they are 30.
The composite picture of the lives of a majority of our children and young people is dismal. It is characterised by educational failure; poverty; the absence of father figures; growing dependence on the state; pervasive and endemic unemployment – with very few prospects for any significant improvement in the future.
It is against this background that we must consider the increasing desperation and militancy of organisations like the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). Earlier this week, at an ANCYL meeting at the University of Cape Town, Ronald Lamola, the acting ANCYL president, made a number of inflammatory and racially aggressive comments on the current state of the country.
In his view “the only way blacks are going to become part of the economy is through the nationalisation of the mines and the expropriation of white-owned farms.” For good measure he also demanded that “universities should be transformed to further the ANC agenda.”
It is tempting to ignore such outbursts as the meaningless ranting of young radicals.
But we should not. The problem is that Lamola and his comrades really believe what they are saying. They really believe that the answer lies simply is seizing the wealth of those “who are swimming in islands of prosperity.” Of course, the approach that he recommends would be catastrophic for all South Africans – and most of all for his own constituency. But that is not the point.
The point is that the present condition of our youth is unsustainable – and its unsustainability affects the future of everyone in the country. All of us should redouble our efforts to address the underlying causes of this hopelessness:
- We cannot wait another generation to mend the broken education system. We should support imaginative initiatives like that of Symphonia which is partnering business leaders with township principals;
- We should insist on better performance from our education authorities;
- We should break the stranglehold of SADTU on the education system – which has contributed to the fact that teachers spend only 3.5 hours a day teaching at many of our disadvantaged schools;
- We need to accelerate the youth wage subsidy and make it much easier for school-leavers to get jobs;
- Privileged communities – of all races – should do much more to assist unemployed youth;
- Above all, we need a national campaign to get the nine million fathers who are not living with their children to accept their responsibilities as parents.
We should all use Youth Day to concentrate our minds and efforts on the unacceptability of the conditions in which most of our children continue to live.
Executive Director of the F W de Klerk Foundation