The condition of youth in South African townships

Today, the 13th of July 2019, representatives of different organisations which have a stake in youth organising met at the House of Movements in Pritchard, Johannesburg. The purpose of the meeting was to sketch the beginnings of a network of youth that are out of school and especially unemployed. Representatives from the Orange Farm Advice Office; the Gauteng Civic Associates and the Gauteng Community Health Care Workers Forum discussed the youth at length, including the problems that face it. There were several things that were made obvious.

Since 1994, the youth in South Africa have been faced with problems among them the rising youth unemployment; increasing spread of HIV/AIDS; drug-use, especially nyaope; teenage pregnancy; youth crime on youth; all linked to poverty, as well as increasing ‘university fees’ (includes textbook prices; accommodation; tuition and food prices). The evidence shows that the youth have not been adept at dealing with these problems.

In 2014, for the first time since 1994, students in South Africam universities reacted to a part of these problems in the form of the #RhodesMustFall movement which had origins in the University of Cape Town. This much more organised resistance youth movement resurfaced in 2015 as the #FeesMustFall movement which shook the South African state and led to a 0% fee-increment in what has been an annual increase in university fees without break, however that victory by the movement was not consolidated.

A common feature of both movements is that they were confined to the university and hardly made an impact outside the education sector save for an otherwise important link which students began to make with the outsourced workers in university. Gains in the form of the insourcing of workers such as gardeners; security workers; cleaners, were made, but again not consolidated. University fees continue to rise, fewer and fewer youth afford to go to university while little of the paper agreements between ‘second-tier’ university workers and the universities have been realised.

There is also a severe lack of skills among youth such that many are not only unemployed but unemployable; cannot enter any trade or independently source any form of income. Common myths about unemployment are that it can be resolved through entrepreneurship and that the youth and many working class people in general are without jobs because they are lazy. The preoccupation with, and fixation on the idea of entrepreneurship has led to pledges, conferences, which encourage the youth to pursue entrepreneurship but say nothing about developmental and educational problems facing the youth. Ideas about entrepreneurship are everywhere on the internet; social media platforms; the television, it is not surprising that many young people are presently trying to come to terms with their conditions and attempt to tackle it as individuals.

This by all accounts has not worked; neither does it look like it will work in the future. The overwhelming majority of youth are without the skills to survive the problems they face. A different but crucial challenge for youth has been survival skills. Substance abuse has become an epidemic while suicide rates have risen among the youth with South Africa coming in at 6th place in youth-suicide worldwide. The youth are struggling to cope. The fewer are fewer young people who are still energised in the country have reading, extra-mural activities and other forms of organisation as something that sets them apart.

Reading has many benefits, both for the individual and the collective. At the individual level, reading is known to help develop the mind and enhance creativity. Perhaps the more crucial parts about reading are the fact that it helps decrease depression levels; lowers stress and can brighten one’s day. When people read, they take many lessons and are better equipped to deal with situations that may be happening for the first time to them whereas people who do not read struggle more.

The information contained in books can helps the youth in working class communities understand better why they are poor; why the schools, the clinics, are in dire condition. Why there are practically neither sports facilities nor development structures extended to the townships. Different youth could realise the importance of forming networks as they come to understand that others are in the same condition and struggling together can help find solutions.

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