However, we are highly concerned about those young people who are not able to make a meaningful contribution – to either their own, or South Africa’s future – because they are being deprived of hope and opportunity.
The theme for this year’s Youth Month is “Youth Moving South Africa Forward” which, according to a recent government media statement, “implies an action-oriented approach that recognises the role that the youth of South Africa have played and are still playing to move the country forward”. As much as this is true, recognising the role of the youth is noble, but not enough. It is time to face the facts: unless we effectively develop and empower the youth of today, we will be failing to free the potential and improve the quality of life of everyone in South Africa in the future. In short, unless we move the youth forward, they will not be able to move South Africa anywhere but backwards.
In 1995 – 20 years ago – the Member States of the United Nations adopted the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond incorporating the United Nations Declaration of Intent on Youth: Problems and Potentials. It recognised that young people all over the world aspire to full participation in the life of society including, among others, attainment of an educational level commensurate with their aspirations, and access to employment opportunities equal to their abilities. Accordingly, Member States, including South Africa, committed themselves to an array of actions including to:
- provide its young people with opportunities for obtaining education and for acquiring skills in order to acquire productive employment and leading self-sufficient lives;
- foster mutual respect, tolerance and understanding among young people with different racial, cultural and religious backgrounds;
- improve the situation of young people living in particularly difficult conditions, including by protecting their rights;
- promote the goal of full employment as a basic priority of its economic and social policies, giving special attention to youth employment;
- ensure that young people are active participants and beneficiaries in the process of development; and
- guarantee to all young people the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international instruments related to human rights.
These goals are in line with the rights enshrined in the Constitution and its Bill of Rights – rights that must be realised by the state and be respected by everyone. How is South Africa performing against this checklist? If access to quality education and unemployment levels are anything to go by, South Africa is facing a gigantic problem. Not just a current problem, but a future problem. Education and employment opportunities not only relate to the current state of affairs, but also future hopes and aspirations of the youth of today. Hence, developing and empowering the youth of today is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. It is a current imperative with a future objective – without which, neither the youth of today, nor a South Africa of tomorrow, have a future to celebrate.
By Adv Johan Kruger, Director: Centre for Constitutional Rights