Navigating youth issues in the COVID-19 era
This year, Youth Month is being celebrated in unprecedented times for the country. While the youth of 1976 waged a courageous battle against the oppressive apartheid system, the youth of 2020 have a crucial role to play in fighting a very different, invisible enemy – the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching impact on South Africa’s economy and social fabric. The triple challenges of un-employment, poverty and inequal-ity are more evident now than ever before, and the youth are particularly burdened by these challenges.
Government is therefore celebrating Youth Month under the theme ‘Youth Power: Growing South Africa together in the period of COVID-19’. Leading the commemoration is the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) and the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture. Throughout the month, these role players, along with other government departments and partners, are hosting a number of initiatives focused on empowering the youth.
A better world post COVID-19
The virtual launch of Youth Month saw government and NYDA officials highlighting the various initiatives taking place this month, and the important role that youth have to play during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa called on the youth to put all their energy into creating a better world post COVID-19.
“The youth of 2020 have been called upon to fight a much more silent war against COVID-19 and help to rebuild a new society post COVID-19. You need to use your energy as the youth of today to create a world that will allow all of us to survive and thrive despite this pandemic.”
Minister Mthethwa encouraged the youth to look at innovative ways to succeed in spite of the pandemic. “Despite all the challenges facing young people, our Youth Day and Youth Month programme allow us to empower youth across all sectors of society by encouraging them to take charge of their lives.
“We are acutely aware of COV-ID-19’s negative impact on youth. We urge the youth to look at innovative ways that will allow them to lead and succeed despite this pandemic.”
The Minister said that normal Youth Month activities have been replaced by virtual initiatives and the use of radio and television broadcasts.
“We are all aware of the new nor-mal caused by COVID-19. Hence 2020 Youth Day and Youth Month will be held on virtual platforms and live streaming. We will work with many partners to drive a message of encouragement and positivity through these platforms.
“The stark reality is that many young people will not be able to participate due to internet access. So we will broadcast on radio and television.”
Focus on empowerment
Waseem Carrim, the CEO of the NYDA, said the agency has launched a number of unique programmes and relief measures aimed at the youth this month. These include the Trailblazers campaign, which highlights the stories of young people who are making a difference in
society. Relief measures include the COVID-19 Relief Fund targeted at youth-owned micro-enterprises.
The NYDA is also kicking off its ‘1000 businesses in 100 days’ project, which aims to support businesses operated by young people in the township and rural economies.
“In the weeks and months that follow it will be critically important to help young people in getting enterprises off the ground. We have programmes with the Department of Employment and Labour to help those young people who have fallen out of work or those who are unemployed.”
Carrim added that these initiatives alone will not be enough to change the face of the South African economy. He called on public servants to work on new programmes to uplift deserving youth.
“Beyond existing initiatives we need to think about things like a basic income grant for
unemployed work seekers, universal-based income, higher taxes on the rich and a minimum employment guarantee. If a young person has passion, energy and wants to work, we as the state should be obliged to provide that young person with work.”
The NYDA will also be hosting various webinars related to education, employment and entrepreneurship, in order to provide the youth with the vital information they need to better their lives.
Promoting inclusion and equality
The Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Maite Nkoana-Masha-bane, said her department will continue to work at mainstreaming the youth, women and people with disabilities into the economy.
“We have made significant progress in putting in place measures to achieve this. We will intensify government interventions to further accelerate the empowerment and development of young peo-ple, so that they can reach their full potential.”
The Department is striving to ensure universal access to opportunities for youth, particularly the disabled.
“We need to continue to main-stream universal access to realise the ultimate goals of the disability movement. Providing opportunities for these youth will allow them to contribute fully to the country’s de-velopment and economic growth.”
The Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Hlengiwe Mkhize, encouraged the youth to be at the forefront of social responsibility regarding COVID-19. “We expect our young people in numbers to go out there and assist the communities, especially in rural areas, to ensure that they comply with all the regulations that have been put forward by the President.”
She said that it is important to learn from the struggles of the youth of the past, and to look towards a better future.
“It is important for the youth to enter this decade by clearly learn-ing from the resilience of the past, but also to position themselves for measurable outcomes.
“Remember you follow in the footsteps of world leaders such as our first President Nelson Mandela, who taught us it always seems impossible until it is done,” said the Deputy Minister.
The year 2020 marks 44 years since the 16 June uprising, which saw a shift in the country’s youth activism and power.
In 1975, protests started in African schools after a directive from the then Bantu Education Department that Afrikaans had to be used on an equal basis with English as a language of instruction in secondary schools.
The issue, however, was not so much the Afrikaans, as the whole system of Bantu education was characterised by separate schools and universities, poor facilities, overcrowded classrooms and inadequately trained teachers.
On 16 June 1976, more than 20 000 pupils from Soweto began a protest march. In the wake of clashes with the police, and the violence that ensued during the next few weeks, approximately 700 people, many of them youth, were killed.