We are now well into the month of June, a month known on these shores as ‘Youth Month.’ I want to use this space to look at the efficacy of dedicating this month to youth and to ask the question whether there is substance to such a gesture or it is just empty symbolism? For instance, how is the plight of women improved by dedicating the month of August to them?
Now let me say that like many South Africans I am not oblivious to the machinations behind the idea of setting this time of the year aside to focus on issues facing young people but my concern is how we manage the tension between symbolism and substance. For instance, let me use Mother’s Day’ as an example. I have come to believe a day like this force us to play into the hands of commercial behemoths that convince us that a gift from their shops is the best way to express our love for our mothers.
We allow ourselves to be fed the lie that flowers or chocolates are the best way for us to express our affection for such an important person in our lives. Can we make the month of June truly meaningful to our youth? Firstly to achieve this goal we would have to move from sentimentality towards real life transformation. For instance when we deal with the country’s history we must have a transformative agenda rather than be hypnotised by it.
In fact if history does not improve the present then it only serves an egotistic purpose for those who want us to remain beholden towards them for their role in it. Generally our politicians are wont to make sure that their role in the country’s liberation is forever etched in our memories and this is why they are naming most of the country’s key institutions after themselves and their political friends. Secondly we would have to scratch where it itches.
Many of our young people are faced with substandard education and high levels of unemployment and both issues cannot be solved without dealing with the obstructive nature of our labour unions. Education is supposed to level the playing field but unequal education creates an uneven playing field. An education system that is not responsive to the nation’s developmental needs will not give us a calibre of youth who can contribute meaningfully to it.
However, another thing we cannot ignore is the militancy of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU). I believe the union should have the latitude to deal with labour issues but in a manner that does not disturb or jeopardise the education of our children. It is a well known fact that it is black township children who suffer the most when there is a dispute between SADTU and the Department of Education.
Another issue is the youth wage subsidy. If it is designed for youth and it has a potential to improve their condition, then they should be at the forefront in the discussions around it. The fact that it is protectionist labour unions that have had more say than the intended beneficiaries is really sad. Yes, the concerns of labour should be addressed but surely an idea that was mooted many years ago should have been tweaked and implemented by now.
Work ethic and creativity
Thirdly we need to wean the youth and South Africans generally from the culture of dependency and I know that others may argue that a youth wage subsidy entrenches this very culture. To that view I would say that its main focus should be to give young people employment experience rather than to reward them for clocking into a company. The key is to encourage a work ethic and creativity amongst our youth. They need to stop believing that the country’s politicians have a panacea for all of their problems.
I was in my late teens when I gave my life to Jesus and one of the things that impacted my life around this time was the idea that God has a purpose for my life. I had a terrible upbringing and the idea that my life had purpose brought sanity to me. I believe that every young person needs to be taught this. They need to learn that regardless of what they have gone through or what goes on in this country’s political environment, their lives have purpose and significance in God’s eyes.