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Change the world


Ahead of the recent, highly contested national elections, there was a popular mantra among the youth on social media, that “2024 will be our 1994”. Social media had become an outlet for debate for many young South Africans who had grown disconnected to the politics of the country.

The 1994 elections were a turning point in the country’s history. The transition from apartheid to democracy symbolised reconciliation and nation building. Thirty years on, South Africa finds itself having to rebuild once more, and the youth of 2024 cannot divorce themselves from the process of rebuilding.

Youth Day is one of 12 official public holidays in South Africa’s calendar year. It is one of the more cherished national holidays; often reflected in the annual, visually striking imagery of civilians, including adults, clad in school attire.

Such displays serve as remembrance of the historical 1976 Soweto Uprising, on June 16, where the youth of the time peacefully demonstrated against the apartheid regime, and its introduction of Afrikaans, as a medium of instruction.

Apartheid police retaliated with force, opening fire, killing over 170 black people, including 12-year-old Hector Peterson, whose lifeless body has become the poster image for the day.

A day that previously marked national sorrow would later be ingrained in the hearts and minds of South Africans, as a reminder of the vigour possessed by the youth of South Africa.

Today, I wonder where the youth of 1976 are, and what is their place in the current South Africa. A generation comprised of so many, who fought valiantly against oppression, seem to have betrayed the cause which many others died for.

Iconic anti-apartheid activist, Chris Hani, cautioned in 1992 that “What I fear is that the liberators emerge as elitists who drive around in Mercedes Benzes and use the resources of this country to live in palaces and to gather riches”.

This quote from Hani aptly captures the South African reality in 2024 which is characterised by exaggerated disparities between the haves and the have nots.

The Gini coefficient, which measures inequality from a scale of 0-1, with a higher number indicating greater inequality, shows that South Africa scored 0.63 in 2024. Making South Africa one of the most unequal countries in the world.

The adverse effect of such disparities then manifests in 2024’s youth, whose main contention is the staggering high levels of youth unemployment. According to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), 32.9% of South Africans were unemployed in the first quarter.

Exacerbating a near despondent statistic, is the ever-rising figure of 45,5% of young South Africans who are without work. Although, many unemployed individuals have an education level of matric (Grade 12) and below, graduates still make up 10% of this youth unemployment statistic.

However, Stats SA notes that a person’s chances of getting and keeping a job is greatly influenced by their level of education. Nevertheless, the number of young people not in employment, education, or training (NEET) remains alarmingly high.

The Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit’s (SALDR) profile on NEETs in South Africa, finds that a large proportion of unemployed NEETs are new entrants into the labour market, and many of them have been looking for work for extended periods without success.

Additionally, extended periods of disconnect from the labour market and education or training opportunities increases young people’s risk of remaining trapped in income poverty and of suffering mental ill-health.

Addressing youth unemployment is a national imperative, not only to advance the economy, but for societal morale and social cohesion. The government, private sector, and civil society are key to achieving this objective.

The youth, however, have not been passive despite these challenges, as evidenced by the proliferation of entrepreneurial activities in the gig economy, and those who leverage the growing influence of social media as a means of growing their businesses.

Youth activity is also evident in the phenomenon of posting one’s CV on social media, with the hopes of the post reaching a prospective employer, an indicator which shows the youth’s willingness and determination to work.

However, today’s youth have seemingly become resigned to temporary jobs to survive. These temporary jobs, then, end up being a permanent feature, with youth in these positions not having critical benefits like medical aid and a pension fund, further disadvantaging them.

This, together with broader national issues such as loadshedding, high levels of crime, inflation, and an economy that is moving at a lumbering pace, paints a bleak picture for many young South Africans.

They have in turn, showcased their discontent with the soon-to-be former government led by the African National Congress (ANC), by casting their votes in the national elections, which they deem “their 1994”.

According to Chief Electoral Officer, Sy Mamabolo, there has been an increase in the rate of representation by persons in the age cohort of 18-39 years; an age band which accounted for 42% or 11.7 million voters in the voters’ roll.

Almost prophetically, the status quo long enjoyed by the ANC ruling class has dropped below 50%, losing its outright majority and having to set up a government of national unity.

Yet the consequence of a coalition government is angst about the direction of the country – which will inevitably affect the youth most. The youth of 2024 ought to align themselves with this period of rebuilding, particularly for future generations, as the youth of 1976, who laid out their lives for the freedom that we now enjoy.


Kuyanda Kala is a Media Studies Honours graduate, based at the Communication and Marketing Department at Nelson Mandela University. 

*This piece was also published in The Herald on 18 June 2024.

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