The month of June is no ordinary month in South Africa, especially for its youth. It is a reminder of the Heroes and Heroines of 1976, who made history during this month. The 16th of June 1976 South Africa saw an uprising where thousands of students in Soweto started a march against the Bantu Education System, which compelled Black student to learn in Afrikaans.
On the fateful day of June, students were to have a peaceful march to Orlando Stadium as a sign of resistance against the new language policy. However, events did not turn out as expected and these particular events made the month of June what it is in SA today.
Although it is a month where we commemorate the bravery and victory of the 1976 youth, South Africa’s youth is still faced with challenges. Youth struggles today have become so complex and distressing that their simultaneous occurrences, make them extremely difficult to successfully deal with them in a feasible way both by the government and citizens at large.
That struggles faced in the modern era seem to be vast in nature, does not in any way imply that those of 1976 are invalidated. I venerate the youth of 1976 for their relentless valour and guidance for which they left for generations thereafter.
Challenges facing South-African youth today span from a number of elements dealt with domestically varying from the corruption scourge to the youth having little or no faith in governance (Patel; Graham: 2019). It is imperative to recall that struggles come from whence there is disparity, and these grapples the youth are faced with today most probably occur from those in the past. Today the youth bears the brunt of the past struggles and the latter.
Contemporary youth challenges comprise of the high unemployment rate, ever rising higher education tuition fees, the digital divide, school dropouts and currently the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In February, SA youth aged 15-24 years recorded a high unemployment rate of 63.2% while the unemployment rate of those aged 25-34 years was 41.2% in the Q4 2020 unemployment rates by Statistics South Africa.
These unemployment rates are in essence a guideline of how many of South Africa’s youths are without employment and a tangible source of income. The struggle becomes then a factor contributing to a number of other challenges that the country is faced with, such as the spiralling criminal activities. Because of unemployment, we have a frustrated youth on the verge of destruction today.
Access to education
In 2020, when SA was due for a hard lockdown in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), many students in higher learning institutions were faced with the challenge of vacating, especially university residences. This for students meant going back home to their various provinces and putting to a halt education programmes, except of course for those institutions where the mode of remote learning was not new.
As it was seen a number of higher learning institutions introduced remote learning programmes later on, with students requesting digital gadgets to enable them access to this particular mode of learning. Remote learning, however, for many institutions exposed the flaws and bridges to the gaps in our educational system. It became evident that the government is still faced with so much responsibilities in as far as providing necessary educational resources.
Tertiary students in most parts of rural areas were faced with challenges of exclusivity, late to no arrival of study packs and at most lack of connectivity in the 4th Industrial Revolution era.
According to Dube (2020), online learning meant rural students will be excluded from learning and teaching, because of lack of resources and low-tech software, amongst many others.
Considering COVID implications on the youth of SA academically, one can only imagine the intensity and frustration of young people who are neither employed nor studying and should contend with the advancement of technology. In an evolving global landscape, South Africa – like many other countries – has the responsibility to adapt to ongoing changes in various industries, but what will this mean pragmatically for its youth?
The youth and 4IR
Blending of human life with technology to coexist – means innovation of new ways to do things, it means less need for human power, effortless services, and it means more machinery and robotics. It is alleged that it also means more job losses and in this case for the South African youth and not so much excitement on science innovations since humanoids are designed with artificial intelligence to offer the same services as human consultants.
It can be argued that the 4IR brings about opportunities for young people to explore, although SA is still not able to meet completely the advancement needs of its youth. The country is still faced with the challenge of lack of information amongst young people about occurrences within the country, what more of the global situation! Can our youth be able to account for what the 4IR is and what it entails? Breaking down of communication is also one of the most contributing factors of youth challenges today, especially with dissemination of information.
I ascertain that perceptions need to be changed, it is a bit unfair that even with the nexus of issues the youth are faced with government is to blame. Indeed human accountability should remain at the forefront of all governing leaders, for the alleged lootings and discrepancies but youth accountability should also come to play. It is within the capabilities of young people to change the narrative of their struggles.
‘Up to us to change’
It is undisputed that youth challenges then and today vary, however opportunities today can be explored. We may have youth riots against higher learning fees, but we also have institutions like the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) which despite the current grievances by students regarding late and non-payments, young people from middle and disadvantaged backgrounds can be afforded an opportunity to get higher education.
We cannot solely be dependent on government for changes, neither can we demand that blame be apportioned everywhere else except with the youth. Youth of today can make use of organisational facilities that are meant for their empowerment to enhance knowledge and acquire skills.
Small businesses can be developed by young people, free online courses and job opportunities amongst many others can be explored. We should no longer see acts of violence as means to solutions.
We the youth also have the responsibility to teach and learn from one another. It is up to us, although not entirely, to change the circumstances of our surroundings.
Collectively there is so much we can achieve against the youth struggles of millennia. “A civilization which leaves so large a number of its participants unsatisfied and drives them into revolt neither has nor deserves the prospect of a lasting existence”- Sigmund Freud
Beauty Mbuwane is the author of this piece. She is an intern at the Institute for Global Dialogue and a final year Student of International Communication at Tshwane University of Technology.