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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis – a ticking time bomb

A week ahead of the commemoration of National Youth Day in South Africa and 45 years after the massacre of school children during the Soweto Uprising of 1976, the country’s youth still suffer massive unemployment, extreme violence, and an outdated education system.

This is according to University of Johannesburg (UJ) Professor Leila Patel who said young people continue to grapple with the well-documented failings of the education system which has left many school-leavers unprepared or unable to access tertiary education or become entrepreneurs.

Lauren Graham, UJ Professor and associate at the Centre for Social Development in Africa said youth unemployment is one of South Africa’s most intractable challenges and has been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Prior to the pandemic the unemployment rate, including people who had given up looking for work was just under 70% for people aged 15 to 24. A year later [in 2021] the rate had increased to 74%,” said Graham.

Adding that young people on the continent are the most affected by unemployment and underemployment and they are struggling to survive.

“They are poor and are stuck in ‘waithood’ –a prolonged period of suspension in which people’s access to social adulthood is delayed or denied,” she said.

READ: DA has requested the Free State government to hire unemployed engineering graduates in the province

Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) ‘s official unemployment rate rose to 32,6% between January and March (first quarter) of 2021 from 32,5% in the previous quarter. The Quarterly Labour Force Statistics (QLFS) places the country’s expanded unemployment rate, which includes discouraged workers, at 43,2% – an increase of 0,6 of a percentage point from the previous quarter.

According to the agency, these new unemployment figures show that young people are the most affected.

The Statistician General, Risenga Maluleke, said a major issue of concern remains the extremely high youth unemployment numbers.

The latest QLFS report shows that youth unemployment for those between 15 and 24 years sits at 74,7% when using the expanded definition of unemployment.

Maluleke said some young people have been discouraged with the labour market and they are also not building on their skills base through education and training.

“The reason we calculate youth unemployment for those between15 – 24 years is to be able to make international comparisons.

“This age group unemployment remains the highest in the country. Young people of that age group remain vulnerable to labour markets.

Maluleke said of the 7,2 million unemployed persons in the first quarter of 2021, 52,4% had education levels below matric, followed by those with matric at 37,7%.

He said only 2,1% of unemployed persons were graduates, while 7,5% had other tertiary qualifications as their highest level of education.

Maluleke said some young people have been discouraged with the labour market and they are also not building on their skills base through education and training.

“These young people are not in employment, education or training (NEET). The NEET rate serves as an important additional labour market indicator for young people.

“Of the 10.3 million young people aged between 15 and 24, 3.3 million are not in employment, education or training. This overall rate increased by 1,7 percentage points in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the last quarter of 2020,” said Maluleke.

The Quarterly Labour Force Statistics (QLFS) also shows that the NEET rate for women is higher than that of their male counterparts in both years.

Compared to the first quarter of 2020, the percentage of young persons aged 15–34 years who were not in employment, education or training increased by 1,9 percentage points from 41,7% to 43,6% in the first quarter of this year.

Maluleke said the NEET rate for males increased by 2,0 percentage points, while for females the rate increased by 1,7 percentage points in the first quarter of 2021.

The report also shows that when we compare quarter one of 2020 with the first quarter of 2021, more than four in every ten young females were not in employment, education or training.

READ: Dear graduate, you should take that ‘crappy’ job

Analysts say limited economic and educational prospects have exacerbated youth frustrations in the country.

Former Wits University Student Representative Council (SRC) deputy president and researcher in the EFF Parliamentary caucus Tokelo Nhlapo, said the National Treasury budget cuts led to 2021 Fees Must Fall protests around the country.

Nhlapo said the brutal killing of 35-year-old Mthokozisi Ntumba in March this year must be understood in the context of government’s systematic defunding of public universities and the fascist culture cemented by former Wits University Vice-Chancellor and former chair of Universities South Africa, Adam Habib.

Adding that over the past few years, students have protested against fee exclusion, insourcing of cleaning and security workers, decolonisation of universities and gender equality.

“Since the 2015/16 Fees Must Fall protests, one thing that been permanent at many of the student protests has been the violent repression of students’ voices through the deployment of private security and the South African Police Service, effectively criminalising protests at universities.

“The consequence has been the abandonment of democratic liberties through violence and repression in almost all public universities in South Africa,” said Nhlapo.

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