Educated and unemployed: Young people tell their stories ahead of Youth Day in SA

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South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. This is according to the latest data from Statistics South Africa (STATS SA).

Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape has again come out top with a staggering unemployment rate of 35, 7 %. This means at least 640 000 people in the metro are living on less than R1 077 a month. And it is the youth, those aged between 15 and 24, that are bearing the brunt.

Kim Daniels took to the streets of Gqeberha to hear the stories of the youth, and what they actually have to celebrate this Youth Day.

It’s not easy

In 2016, when he was doing his National Diploma in Logistics and later his advanced diploma, Luntu Taule never thought he’d end up selling chips and energy drinks at a taxi rank. Applying for jobs hasn’t been working out for him but he is keeping the faith.

“For my survival it’s not easy. Currently, I’m still hustling looking for a job but I sell sweets and energy drinks in the meantime. I have to keep busy. I have to keep moving otherwise if I sit still I’m going to fall into depression. I don’t want to be like these guys on the corners doing the drugs and falling into the wrong things. The money I make isn’t even enough to buy electricity but I have to keep moving,” says Taule.

“Sitting at home and doing nothing is frustrating”

Things aren’t much different for 25-year-old Asanda Marks. Being the oldest of her siblings, she couldn’t rely on her parents to support her after graduating with two separate degrees in Journalism and Media Communications and Culture. She says she doesn’t know what to do anymore.

“I’m unemployed, sitting at home and doing nothing is frustrating. I think the advantage was that when you are in varsity there’s a NSFAS bursary so you don’t feel like you are unemployed and because of that allowance, that’s why I went back to school,” says Marks.

Youth unemployment has been steadily rising in the country for over a decade. Economics professor at Rhodes University, David Fryer says the trend looks set to continue for a while.

“It’s kind of an indicator of the state of the country”

“If you go back to pre-94, there was really massive unemployment in the Eastern Cape. It trended upwards after 94 and then sort of plateaued and then after 2008 and particularly after COVID, it’s been going up. It’s kind of an indicator of the state of the country. So unless we start to make progress on a broader front, in terms of governance policy formation and implementation, it is just going to go up and up,” says Fryer.


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“They have skills that don’t match what the employer demands”

There’s consensus that the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s poor economic standing and the Russia-Ukraine war have worsened the job market. Director of the Economics Department at Nelson Mandela University, Ronnie Ncwadi says the brain-drain is also a real issue for the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro.

“It means that obviously it leaves a void that we call brain drain and also the reason that we have an exodus of a young number of people going to other provinces and of cause other countries, is because the demand side is also failing. They have skills that don’t match what the employer demands and therefore they find themselves being educated and they can’t find jobs. We call that structural unemployment so we need to fix that to make sure that we balance the scales in terms of the demand and supply, that’s where we give students skills that is actually needed by the firm,” says Ncwadi.

Kgomotso Tolamo, Programme Manager of the Productive Cities for the SA Cities Network which conducted a study on unemployment says the youth needs to watch the economic trends of the country. Tolamo says it will enable them to see where jobs are needed that fit their skill and preference.

“Our skills shortages where they exist are with artisanal jobs. Those would be things like plumbers for example electricians. If you look at our scarce skills set list versus those would be some of the most urgent set of skills that we are in need of. So we would look for it in a way.  We understand that the world is globalising so naturally one would go for higher-paying jobs in other countries or cities but the other aspect is : are we creating other avenues to participate in jobs where we do have scarce skills,” says Tolamo.

Job creation is one of the greatest concerns for the city managers as youth unemployment is at a staggering 63%.