According to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), in 2014 young people (aged 14 to 35) made up 37% of the country’s population. A recently released Stats SA report entitled The Social Profile of Youth, 2009 – 2014 (the Report) paints a dismal picture of the prospects for young South Africans. Largely failing in education and unemployed, this led to the Statistician General concluding that their parents are better placed to secure employment and other opportunities – which is a sure sign of regression.

According to the Report, the percentage of black South Africans in professional, managerial and technical positions aged 25 to 34 has dropped by 2% over the past 20 years. There is, in addition, a further decline in bachelor degree completion rates among black and Coloured South African students since the mid-1990s.

The same report notes very few changes in young people’s prospects since the previous report in 2009 was issued. Young people who do not possess a matric qualification are most likely to remain unemployed. Individuals with a matric qualification recorded unemployment levels of 38% (unchanged from 2009). 1% of graduates failed to find employment, while 5% of young people with other tertiary education other than university degrees could not find employment.

Using the strict definition of being able, willing and actively seeking work, but not having a job, two-thirds of young people aged 15 – 34 are unemployed. This amounts to five million unemployed young people. Using the expanded definition, which includes those too discouraged to try to find work, alongside those studying or doing unpaid work in the home, like caring for the elderly or children – then the figure rises to 75%.

The 25 to 34 age group is characterised by chronic unemployment with very little difference between the 2009 Report and the recently released Report, which states that unemployment in this age group stands at 41%. This translates to a figure of five million. Enterpreneurship too in this age group is on the decline – dropping by 2.6% compared to the 2009 Report.

Despite the fact that young people living in poverty declined in all nine provinces, in 2014 a household with at least one youth was more likely to experience hunger than a household without. The Northern Cape and Eastern Cape provinces recorded the biggest increase of hunger, at 9.6% and 5.9% respectively.

While there is at policy level, a keen awareness of the importance and need for youth intervention programmes, these policies – judging from the dismal statistics quoted above – are simply not working.  

The National Youth Policy seeks to “address the specific challenges and immediate needs of the country’s youth”. It outlines policy interventions to enable the optimal development of young people, both as individuals and as members of South African society. It has wide-ranging aims, from the provision of nutrition for young children and expectant women, to creating tax incentives for young companies to hire young labour market entrants. While some of the Policy’s measures have been implemented, some successfully, there is a need to create even greater access for more young people to these policies.

The National Youth Development Agency (the Agency), established in 2008 to specifically address the concerns of young people, plays an extremely limited role in countering poverty and inequality. The Agency, despite receiving a clean financial audit in 2015, was prior to that beset by reports of financial misconduct, with very little to show in adhering to its core mandate. A constant criticism of the Agency is how the high salaries of its personnel makes the Agency less likely to effectively tackle problems encountered by young people.

While the Constitution affirms the values of human dignity, equality and freedom, it is apparent that policies aimed at young people are failing to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality among young South Africans. This Freedom Day, there are very few reasons for young South Africans to celebrate. An educated, healthy and gainfully employed youth is the bedrock for any nation’s prosperity. Freedom too, means the active participation of citizens in decisions that impact on their lives – a fact that young people should be aware as the nation heads towards local government elections on 3 August 2016.

By Phephelaphi Dube: Legal Officer, Centre for Constitutional Rights