What are the key challenges facing the next generation of South African young people?
I am talking about those in the age bracket 13-22. They will enter their middle age by around 2030 and onward. At that point they will have to deal with the consequences of many issues we as the current adult generation did not do well at.
They will face the economic consequences of successive ANC governments and lack of social vision from private companies. There are a number of related issues here: The government is strong on policy, but weak on execution. Since the RDP in 1994, we have five big policy initiatives – the NDP is the latest one.
Because there are strong ideological differences as to the actual direction of the economy, we keep sending mixed and conflicting messages to stakeholders both inside and outside the country. At the current pace and with the lack of leadership resolve, the good targets set in the NDP have no chance of being reached – not even close.
We had the edge in mining and agriculture, but due to state intervention and no clarity on mining or property rights, our country are slowly falling behind. Food security will become a big issue. As the output drops and poverty grows, social upheaval will increase. Hungry people believe populist promises.
Our leaders in 2013 will sit with the terrible legacy of an imploded school education system. The drop-out rates coupled with the low standard and therefore un-employability of pupils who in fact passed matric, will create a cohort of people in their late teens and early twenties with lots of energy, but no skills and no hope.
The key factor to erase inequality is education. The key factor to increasing inequality is to leave the majority of young people limping on the margins of society whilst the small group of able ones make money. Tied to a “trickle-up” economics, our young people will face a Gini coefficient above 0.7 and will have to contend with a rising political tide far to the left where blind nationalization will be the key mantra.
Our young people will still face the heritage of a race-obsessed generation. We, the current bunch, are simply too deeply scarred by apartheid to really move away from racial stereotypes.
Fuelled by forced self-identification (“for statistical purposes”), affirmative action gone wrong in so many public offices, and xenophobia against the makwerekere, racism still rules the day. Because it is such an easy political stick to hit any opponent, it has been entrenched in public discourse as the easiest way to avoid rational debate.
Whilst racism gets into the headlines easily, the reality of gender-based exclusion, discrimination, and even outright violence lurk below the surface of a deeply patriarchal society.
Some of the new African leadership carry their traditional beliefs about women, sex, and gays into the public realm. They have learnt to speak politically acceptable language and even subscribe to quotas for woman leadership. But the reality plays itself out in private homes, schools, and courtrooms of this country. The rightful place for women and the protection of our children will be a major outstanding task come 2030.
Our new leaders will reap the benefits of the communication or virtual revolution. We only stand at the very beginning of the marvellous potential that the internet and smartphones bring us.
But our 2030 leaders will grapple with two aspects: The digital divide will have grown and those not on the screen will be off the agenda. And we still do not know how social relations – increasingly becoming “virtual” – will affect our senses of personal identity, human intimacy and long term loyalty.
Our future leaders have very little control over climate change. This requires global agreements. The realities of a carbon-dependent economy will be a serious challenge. Those affected the most will once again be the poor who are vulnerable to inclement weather and changing rainfall patters for subsistence farmers.
The only comfort one might draw is this: When our youth faced the mighty apartheid machine in June 1976, they showed a dogged determination and a focussed purpose. They worked together as a collective and showed immense courage. It took them and others 18 years to achieve the goal of freedom.
If they can muster the same energy, who knows what can be accomplished over the next 16 years?
The key question is: Where is this youth movement today?
IMAGE CREDITS: http://www.southafrica.to/