Annually, the month of June is dedicated to South Africa’s young people and is a time to reflect on where we come from as a nation and the great sacrifices that were made.
On 16 June 1976 young South Africans stood up against apartheid laws in Soweto and united in protest against the Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974, which pronounced Afrikaans as the teaching medium for all schools. In the process many lost their lives.
The youth of 1976 could not access state scholarships or entrepreneurship grants nor could they participate in international exchange programmes organised by government. However, they had a vision of a free and democratic South Africa.
It is this vision and the fruits of it that we celebrate as government during our 20 Years of Freedom campaign this year. South Africa is a better country today because of the sacrifices made by so many youth of the past.
Between 2002 and 2012 about 30 million young South Africans received some form of product or service, which included career guidance, loans, vouchers, mentorship, job placements, bursaries or scholarships from government.
About 1.4 million poor students were able to access higher education as a result of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and 6.1 million youth are currently employed, earning an income to support their basic needs and live a decent life.
The National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) has not been around for 20 years but in the five years we’ve been in existence we have provided business mentorship to 3 932 young people. We have also created 73 920 jobs, provided career guidance services to more than 1 million young people and handed out more than 110 bursaries.
The current NYDA board can look back on the past year, since its appointment by President Jacob Zuma, with pride. In the past year alone the NYDA has delivered 675 Entrepreneurship Grants to youth owned micro-enterprises, over 250 scholarships through the Solomon Mahlangu Scholarship Fund and provided career guidance to over 794 000 young people, among many other successes.
While there is much to celebrate we must also acknowledge the seriousness of challenges the youth of South Africa face.
These challenges include the international scourge of youth unemployment, education and skills development, economic inclusion and issues related to health and well-being.
This requires a multi-pronged approach that involves broadening opportunities and choices for young people. It also requires specific interventions with job creation being the most pressing matter facing young people today.
Youth Employment Accord
The Youth Employment Accord signed in April 2013 by government, organised labour, business as well as community and youth formations, represents just that.
The accord aims to make a meaningful contribution to the creation of five million jobs by 2020 and will provide practical, meaningful results if all stakeholders play their part.
This Youth Month, I encourage all South Africans to celebrate the great strides we have made as a country in the past 20 years.
Today we have an agency that is located in the Office of the President focused on developing products, services and programmes for the youth of South Africa. Today millions of youth have access to education and skills development programmes.
Today young South Africans are changing the world by seizing opportunities that government has made available to them. Today we are proud to be South African. In time we will shape a better world of social justice and social equality for all.
As chairperson of the NYDA, every day for me is Youth Day and so it should be for everyone who needs to rally behind the youth of today.
*Yershen Pillay is the NYDA’s executive chairperson.