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OPINION | Solutions to staggering youth unemployment rate
7 June 2021, 1:40 PM

South Africa is battling not only an unprecedented pandemic, but also its deepest economic recession in 100 years.  Unemployment remains stubbornly high and has pushed past 40%, with  2.2 million people having lost their jobs in 2020.  Millions more are at risk of losing their wages, pensions and jobs.

The state is facing varying degrees of collapse.  Key State-Owned Enterprises, central to critical sectors of the economy are hanging by a thread and some in fact are simply dying.  These range from South African Airways to SA Express, SABC, Denel, Prasa but also Eskom and Transnet.

Many municipalities are so dysfunctional that not only can they not deliver essential services, they also cannot even pay their workers’ salaries.

Young people are not immune from this tragedy.  Unemployment levels for young people are far higher than the national average, and worse when taking into account race, gender, disability, rural and township indicators.

Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Plan

What needs to be done is to get the economy moving and growing.  Government, organised business and labour drafted the Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Plan (ERRP) which was subsequently tabled at Parliament in October 2020 by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Its central pillars include:

  • Ramping up local procurement. Some’s levels of imports are double the international average.  Shifting consumers, workplaces, companies, government, SOEs etc. to buy locally produced goods e.g. clothing, furniture, food, vehicles, machinery etc. will not only save but create 1000s of local manufacturing, agriculture, transport and other badly needed jobs.
  • Eskom Social Compact. Fixing Eskom, cleansing it of the corruption and mismanagement that has brought it to its knees is central to rebuilding the economy. Reliable and affordable electricity is essential if the economy is to be allowed to recover.
  • Tackling corruption and wasteful expenditure and rebuilding the state. Billions of rand are lost every year to corruption, wasteful expenditure, tax and customs evasion, mismanaged SOEs and a stagnant economy.  These leakages in the state have to be fixed.  Plugging these gaping holes will free up hundreds of billions that can be spent rebuilding essential public services, stimulating the economy and nurturing jobs rich emerging sectors.
  • A massive infrastructure programme. Six trillion is being secured to invest in ports, energy, rail, roads, water, agriculture.  These include funds from the public and private sectors.  Getting these right will boost key export sectors e.g. agriculture, manufacturing etc.  A working Prasa will get workers to work on time.
  • Addressing regulatory blockages. Unlocking digital spectrum, reducing red tape to set up businesses etc. will make it easier for young people to establish their own companies.

Overhaul our education system

Our education system has pockets of excellence.  But these are too few.  Tragically too many young people, in particular from historically disadvantaged communities fall through the cracks.

No modern economy can thrive if the majority of learners entering Grade 1 will not matriculate.  A skilled workforce will not exist if the majority of matriculants do not go on to enter and complete tertiary education.

Money is not the problem.  Billions are spent on basic, further and tertiary education.  It is a crisis of management, infrastructure and curricula.  Schools are under resourced with classrooms overcrowded and basic infrastructure lacking.  Too few spaces exist for the need and demand in tertiary education.  Too many learners leave universities with degrees in humanities and not enough with degrees in science, engineering, medicine etc.  Too few leaners and graduates leave the system with practical skills, training and experience.

The SETAs are the weakest link.  Billions are spent with very little to show for them.  Too often the SETAs are better known for looting and workshops of no value.

The curricula from basic to tertiary education needs to be overhauled to speak to the needs of the economy of not only today but also tomorrow.  The 4th Industrial Revolution is here.  Our education system needs to equip young people with the skills to become digital programmers, drone pilots, electric vehicle engineers etc.

Targeted interventions are needed to ensure young people are not left behind.

These need to include:

  • Expanding and formalising the Presidential Employment Programme which has employed 350 000 young people as learning assistants in our schools. This is helping keep learning safe and providing these young people with skills.  But they need to be paid, paid a living wage and paid on time.
  • Internship programmes need to be expanded with every workplace providing them. But they need to move from reducing interns to photocopy assistants and tea girls to providing them with practical skills so they can move into jobs.  They need to be based on the artisanship programmes that used to provide valuable training.
  • Expanded Public and Community Works Programmes need to move from providing cheap labour to broke municipalities to clean streets to programmes that will give young people real skills and help them to establish their own businesses, e.g. help young people set up recycling companies and not simply to pick up rubbish.
  • Provide unemployed youth with work seekers’ grants to enable them to afford public transport when they look for work.
  • Require job application portals to be data free to enable free access to applicants.
  • Scrap work experience requirements for entry level jobs to enable young people the chance to gain employment and skills.
  • Fix NSFAS so that young people can afford to study.
  • Fix the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) and ensure that its funds go to young people seeking to set up their own businesses.
  • Require banks to provide affordable and accessible credit to young people wanting to set up their own businesses.
  • Overhaul the public procurement system so that there is a single open, online system for the entire state. This will make it easier to monitor and ensure that it favours local procurement and prioritises young entrepreneurs.
  • Reinforce the Sectoral Master Plans to get those sectors of the economy moving and require them to prioritise youth employment.

South Africa has a choice.  Fix the economy and state or continue to head on a downward spiral.  Equally a sustainable recovery needs to champion young people.  There can be no future if the youth continue to be marginalised, unskilled, unemployed and without hope.  That is a ticking time bomb. – Cosatu Parliamentary Coordinator, Matthew Parks, is the author of this piece. 

32 DRC MPs lost to COVID-19 since start of pandemic
1 June 2021, 1:00 PM

Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo say 32 members of parliament have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. The disease has claimed the lives of some prominent MPs and officials from the president’s office.

The Vice-President of the DRC’s lower house of parliament announced the news. The deaths were recorded from the start of the pandemic in March last year.

DRC reports first COVID-19 case:

The latest victim was a prominent MP, Thomas Lokondo. Health officials say he contracted COVID-19 and died on the 10th of March this year at a South African hospital.

All MPs are required to wear masks in parliament. But some lawmakers go without them. The DRC has 608 MPs.

According to the DRC Health Ministry, the country has recorded more than 31 000 COVID-19 cases and 782 deaths since March 2020. The country’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign was temporarily suspended last month over fears of side-effects from the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Authorities had to redistribute 1.3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to other African countries before they expired.

The country rolled out its vaccination campaign on April the 19th. But many Congolese are reluctant to have the COVID-19 vaccine due to fears of side-effects. Health officials have so far vaccinated 23 000 people out of a population of more than 80 million. – Report by SABC News’  Correspondent from Kinshasa, Chris Ocamringa.

SA PAP delegation condemns ‘brazen attempt’ to undermine the AU’s authority
1 June 2021, 11:52 AM

South Africa’s delegation to the Pan-African Parliament condemns what they describe as a brazen attempt by East and West Caucus members to undermine the African Union’s authority. This comes after several days of fighting over the PAP’s electoral system.

The Southern Caucus is calling for rotational leadership based on AU rules, while the Eastern and Western Caucuses want to keep the direct voting system.

On Monday, the Parliament’s sitting descended into chaos during an argument over the system as members were gearing up for elections.

Elections for new leadership are expected at 2pm.

The South Africa delegation says that the two East and West Caucuses have been using their majority to hog the Presidency. Amos Masondo, who leads the delegation, claims the majority is also used to avoid accountability on how PAP funds are used.

Masondo elaborates on his views in the video below:

No member for the Southern or Northern Caucuses have held the position of President in the PAP’s 17-year history. As it stands Zimbabwe’s Fortune Charumbira is going up against Mali’s Haidara Cisse and Albino Aboug from South Sudan.

The Southern Caucus believes based on the rotation principle – there’d be no need for an election as Charumbira becomes the only eligible candidate. The northern caucus has not nominated a Presidency candidate.

Industries resume work in India as COVID-19 restrictions ease
1 June 2021, 10:49 AM

As new reporting of coronavirus cases started to subside in India and unlocking process began, industries also resumed their operations.

Industries in Gujarat were allowed to operate during the peak of second wave in most part of the state, but the operations were still shut because of disruption in supply chain due to lockdown in other parts of the country.

Industries were facing problems in getting raw material from other parts of the country where lockdown was in place and in sending their products to other states during the lockdown.

However, the situation is improving now. India reported on Tuesday (June 01) its lowest daily rise in new coronavirus infections since April 8 at 127 510 cases over the past 24 hours, while deaths rose by 2 795.

WHO launches a donation campaign to aid India’s COVID-19 response:

The South Asian nation’s tally of infections now stands at 28.2 million, while the death toll has reached 331 895, health ministry data showed.

The country says it will soon start working on new strategies to inoculate all its citizens against the virus. Policy-makers will study the effectiveness of a single shot as well as the impact of a cocktail of shots against the virus. – Additional information by SABC News

sabc news suicide pic
OPINION | Hard conversations on mental health first step to prevent teen suicide
1 June 2021, 8:00 AM

Mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 youth. In South Africa, 9.5% of teen deaths are due to suicide. A pre-pandemic study found that 24% of youth from Grade 8 through 11 struggle with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and depression; 21% have tried to take their lives, and still much goes undetected and untreated. Also of concern is that up to 80% of mental disorders first occur before the age of 26.

Despite all of this, 70% of youth don’t get treatment for their conditions. Misunderstanding and stigma surrounding mental health is still rife. Access to mental health treatment and care is severely limited, non-existent in some areas.

Adolescence is a uniquely tough time. Faced with so many physical, emotional and social changes, being a teen is not easy. Now with added issues like exposure to bullying and violence, poverty, abuse, and disruptions to all facets of life due to the pandemic, young people are left more vulnerable to mental health problems.

There is no physical health without mental health. Good mental health allows children and young people to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults.

The Challenges Of SA Youth

Adolescence and youth brings about cognitive, social and emotional transitions. Young people make very different social decisions than adults and being socially connected or part of a group is very important. Being a teen in South Africa today comes with a unique set of challenges – inequality, dysfunctional family structures, poverty, crime, abuse to name a few.

Common psychiatric disorders in adolescents include anxiety, depression, conduct disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders. All are associated with an increased suicide risk, and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives. We also know that vulnerable youth as well as those with lower social capital are most at risk.

Causes & Triggers Of Adolescent Mental Disorders

Mental disorders can result from complex interactions between a person’s genes and their environment. Adolescence itself is a period of significant physical, social and emotional change and teens may be more vulnerable.

Risk factors for the development of mental health problems in teens include social isolation, academic pressures, low self-esteem, bullying and exposure to violence, substance abuse.

Traumatic and highly stressful life events can have significant and lasting negative effects on mental health that continue as the adolescent matures. Loneliness and social isolation, bullying, abuse, loss and conflict can all result in depression.

Depression can be due to social isolation and loneliness, too little integration with society or a community – spending time on the internet and cellphone chat services reduce social involvement, increase social isolation and increased loneliness and depression. Much of what teens experience – bullying, social isolation, abuse – is a covert underground activity in a kids-only world. Teens are prone to act – and react – rather than reflect. They often focus on the present and feel overwhelmed by emotions.

Warnings Signs & What To Watch For

All too often adults are not aware of what is happening under their very noses. This often happens because we don’t know what warning signs to look out for.

Mental health disorders manifest in different ways and may present differently in adolescents versus adults.

Adolescents are more likely to experience irritability, apathy, sadness, low self-esteem, social withdrawal, insomnia and impaired concentration. Symptoms include low mood and anxiety, as well as thoughts and behaviours that impact negatively on the adolescent’s wellbeing and functioning. They may become withdrawn, stop participating in school activities, or struggle academically.

If untreated, secondary complications can arise, such as dropping out of school, entrenchment of unhealthy behaviours like cutting or extreme weight gain or loss, and these may persist into adulthood. Youth with depression often describe themselves as useless, or life as boring.

In older youth, the diagnosis of depression may be missed because it ‘looks’ different – they may present with oppositional or antisocial behaviour, such as substance use and have problems at school.

COVID-19 And Its Effects

Loneliness in young adults is associated with a number of negative health and mental health. Coping with the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been easy for any age. Feeling sad, scared, stressed or angry while coping with COVID-19 is normal. Being away from school, friends and relatives, having ‘normal everyday routines’ disrupted with no end in sight is a very real cause for anxiety.

Adjusting to new ways of learning and working is hard.

Continual research is clearly showing that the psychosocial effects of the pandemic have disproportionately affected the youth. Young people may be more affected by the negative psychosocial consequences of ‘lockdown’ and social distancing than adults. Young people may also find it more difficult to cope with the current crisis as their coping skills are not equivalent to those of an adult.

It is important to remember that children, teens and other youth are also affected by the impact of the pandemic on their caregivers – like unemployment, financial and emotional stress, illness, death, and fear of infection. It is important that adults receive adequate care and support.

In addition, for youth in domestically violent or dysfunctional homes, the pandemic, lockdowns, restrictions, curfews and school upheaval means many youth are forced to spend more time in abusive environments.

The pandemic tends to magnify pre-existing social inequalities in resources (like education, income, access to healthcare, access to support) resulting in an unequal impact on youth from different social strata.

What To Do

There is still a lot of stigma and fear around suicide. Many people still believe that if they talk about suicide, teens may get the idea to take their lives. Research shows that talking about suicide with a young person does not cause them to have thoughts of suicide or kill themselves. But not talking about it can lead to thoughts of suicide turning into actions.

It is reported that 75% of teenagers who attempt suicide give warnings of their suicidal ideation to people around them. Talking about suicide and depression creates an opportunity to discuss feelings and thoughts that might have otherwise remain hidden. Most teens who are thinking about suicide are honest and relieved when asked direct questions about their suicidal thoughts or feelings.

Informing, educating and empowering parents and teachers on how to have the hard conversations with teens about mental health, bullying, abuse and substances is the first step to preventing teen suicide.

Now more than ever, parents need to connect and engage with their children.

Possible warning signs:

  • Talking about suicide or death – could be writing or drawing about death and dying or posting pictures, quotes or messages on social media.
  • Writing or sending goodbye letters or messages or posting goodbye messages on social media.
  • Saying things like “everyone would be better off if I was dead” or “I wish I wasn’t here anymore” or “I don’t want to be here anymore”.
  • Giving away prized possessions.
  • Signs of depression, such as moodiness, hopelessness, withdrawal, drastic change in their appetite and sleep, and loss of interest in usual activities.
  • Increased alcohol and/or other drug use.
  • Behavioural changes and taking excessive risks.

Contact SADAG

“We do not all have the same possibilities to maintain our physical and emotional well-being. That´s why I didn´t hesitate to ask for help.” (Richard, 19)

If you think you or someone you know might be depressed or need help, please consult a professional or reach out to SADAG.

Suicide Helpline 0800 567 567

24-hour Cipla Mental Health Helpline 0800 456 789

24-hour Substance Abuse Helpline 0800 12 13 14

  •  Author of this piece is Janine Shamos, a Trauma Specialist, Transformation Coach, Writer and Owner Frankie London.

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