Youth Month is celebrated every year in June to pay homage to the brave spirit of South African youth who took to the streets on 16 June 1976 to fight against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in our schools. I believe that the same fighting spirit still lives in the new generation of young people, who are now fighting against the scourge of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
These young people who have insatiable aspirations for a better life, demonstrated their steadfastness and forbearance when they came together to call for free tertiary education.
The achievement of a stable and successful South Africa with an inclusive economy is uppermost on the agenda of government to ensure a better life for all. We have and will continue redoubling our efforts to develop and empower youth to be able to contribute to growing our country.
Despite making up the majority of South Africa’s population, youth continue to bear the brunt of unemployment, poverty and inequality. They remain the hardest hit by disease, violent crime, drug abuse and underdevelopment.
As a caring government, we are working hard to ensure that young people acquire skills and experience, and also receive the necessary support to enter the world of entrepreneurship as job creators rather than jobseekers.
Last year, I launched the Youth Employment Service (YES) programme, which aims to prepare young people for employment and provide them with the technical skills needed to underpin the industrialisation of the economy.
The YES programme is a joint effort by government, labour and business to offer paid-work experiences to one million South African youth over the next three years. According to research, out of 15.5 million people aged between 18 and 34 in South Africa, 5.8 million are unemployed.
With a number of large companies already involved, the YES initiative has so far managed to secure 17 000 work opportunities for unemployed youth.
For young people who have entrepreneurial aspirations, government established the National Youth Development Agency, which offers skills development training, development finance, mentorship, support and market linkages.
More than 2 500 start-up companies have since been provided with funding, creating more than 10 000 jobs in the economy.
If we are to make the most of the partnership between government and the private sector, we need to ensure that young South Africans are properly equipped to participate in all sectors of the economy. That is why we are investing in the education of our youth.
We are resolute to ensure that all children, regardless of their circumstances, are not denied access to quality education. This is being complemented by our endeavour to improve the quality of teaching and learning in our schools and tertiary institutions.
Earlier this year, the Department of Higher Education and Training announced the allocation of R967 million for the payment of fees for students owing ‘historical debt’.
This money will assist students who owed fees from the previous year by ensuring that the debt does not prevent them from accessing tertiary education.
With all the investments made by government for their empowerment, youth must also play their part in growing South Africa. They must be preoccupied with activities that contribute to making the country a better and safer place for all to live in. Some of our young people are engaged in awe-inspiring projects, small businesses and farming in their communities. They have taken a proactive decision to play a meaningful role in taking the country forward and growing the economy. We must encourage more young people to look at ways of using their talents and skills to start their own businesses and create jobs.
Such a noble responsibility involves abstaining from alcohol and drug abuse, and also not participating in crime and corruption.
And more importantly, young people must keep themselves safe from HIV and other sexually transmitted illnesses by using a condom, abstaining from early sexual activity and getting tested regularly.
The future of South Africa lies in the hands of the youth who are committed to building a society that is different from the one that the youth of 1976 come from. Let us work together to secure a better future for our youth.