The question is how?
By Carol Butcher
June 16th is a significant date in human history – on this day in 1858, Abraham Lincoln declared: “A house divided against itself cannot stand, “ the Salvation Army was established (1880), the first public roller coaster was opened on Coney Island (1884), and the US Congress accepted Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. South Africans, however, associate this date with the Soweto Youth Uprising in 1976.
I was in matric at the time. I remember our sense of disbelief that the police had fired live ammunition at protestors. Many of us empathised with Black learners demonstrating against Afrikaans becoming the medium of instruction in Black schools. As English speakers, we too would have found this unacceptable.
Forty-two years later, Sam Nzima’s photograph of Hector Pieterson continues to haunt.
The Soweto uprising changed South Africa’s history. The uprisings demonstrated that young people had a voice and they were prepared to fight for freedom and for justice. Many victories have been won since the Soweto uprising, including better access to higher education for all.
However, the battle has not been won. Today millions of young South Africans are in a precarious position – an estimated 40.3% of young South Africans aged 15-24 are NEETS – not employed and not in education. The future is very bleak for them; they are unskilled and unemployable. The media has labelled them “South Africa’s ticking time bomb.”
NEETs need to become a top priority for all South Africans. We cannot allow such a large group of our population to be marginalised and disempowered. They need to be upskilled and they need to be included in the mainstream economy.
The question is how? The idea of implementing a compulsory one year, community service/internship programme is not new, but it has never gained traction. Such a programme needs to be legislated, strategized, funded and driven by government.
There are many areas of need in the country. Service delivery is an obvious area of concern. Why not upskill NEETs and deploy them to fix leaking taps, maintain infrastructure such as water pipes, sewerage, electrical connections, fix potholes, perform general maintenance work, including maintaining roads and pavements. We could upskill them to perform administrative duties in police stations, hospitals, licensing departments, and the Department of Home Affairs. They could be trained to become care givers or nurse aids, to look after children; they could even be used as “educator’s assistants’. The list is endless.
Government could pay these individuals a stipend to cover the basics such as food and transport. At the end of their year of compulsory community service they would leave with a sense of self confidence and self-worth, hard skills, work experience, a better idea of their interests, aptitude and talents and a few credits towards a formal qualification. This would be a win-win for all; it would also improve service delivery in the country.
The question is “How should we go about it?”