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SA’s unemployed youth will soon rise up and rightfully so

If we don’t stem this rising crisis, we will condemn future generations to poverty and inequality.

Unemployment! Youth unemployment. This is the spark that will start it all; it will be the epicentre of South Africa’s next crisis. It will be the country’s version of Samson dislodges the pillars, thereby collapsing the temple upon all who are in it. Unless there is fundamental change to the structure of the economy, current policies and business attitude towards job creation, the unemployment crisis could sink the economy entirely. 

The storm is building, the youth will reach the level of gatvol(ness); they will self-mobilise and their wrath will be like a destructive powerful landslide that will sweep everything away and bury us all. 

To fully comprehend the severity of this crisis, I suggest you read the 2016 report by Stats SA entitled, The Social Profile of the Youth, 2009 – 2014.  

The youth unemployment crisis almost certainly means that bad times lie ahead, we know how small clouds on the horizon can turn into thunderstorms. If we don’t halt this rising crisis or even reverse it, then the tragedy will condemn generations to come to poverty and inequality. Because that’s what unemployment does.   

A society, whether provincial or national, that fails to listen or pay attention to pleas and cries of its youth, will inevitably suffer the consequences. An economy, specifically a labour market within an economy, which is allowed to operate without any real participation in youth (mostly black graduates) development, will find itself having to answer the difficult questions from that very same youth. By that point, they won’t be interested in whatever answer you have to give them. 

A few words must be said about the dismal failure of business leaders and politicians in putting forward a common vision for the economy. As the individual market players, they’ve blindly pursued their own interest (call it natural human selfishness, or greed as you will) without thinking about the kind of economy they will leave behind for their children. 

Posterity will not be hoodwinked, unless policies about inclusive growth have strategies tackling youth unemployment, it will ascribe to us a tag of a generation that borrowed from its children and still failed.

Even worse, it will look at this time in the South African history as a period when leaders (in business and politics), too drunk on the opium of self-enrichment, drove the economy off the cliff and deliberately plunged the next generation deeper into inequality, poverty, unemployment and possibly social unrest.  

Sadly, much of what is happening today in this land of ours will be visited upon those coming after you and I. 

So, what can be done, how can we reduce our high youth unemployment and create jobs? 

External factors will always impact South Africa; we saw this during the global financial crisis of 2008/09. Be that as it may, I’m of the view that when the ripple effects finally arrive here, they must find an economy that’s able to withstand them. According to Treasury’s past discussion document on the subject, South Africa’s young workers are the worst affected by a stagnant or slow economy.   

Below I suggest some short- to medium-term actions that policymakers and key players in the economy can take to wrestle down youth unemployment. 


  • Establish youth employment framework with clearly-outlined policies that will remove barriers to entering the labour market that promote apprenticeships, stages or other work experience, including a scheme aimed at increasing job opportunities for young people by favouring mobility across the country.
  • Develop training programmes with close cooperation between the public and private sectors to ensure that training needs are demand-driven. Evidence collected by the World Bank’s Youth Employment Inventory indicates better effects from training in transitional and developing economies than in advanced economies.
  • Improve educational outcomes by addressing each segment (pre-school, primary, secondary, vocational and tertiary) including enhancing relevance of education systems by better gearing learning outcomes towards labour market needs.


  • Come up with plans for new skills and jobs to modernise labour markets and the development of skills throughout the lifecycle to increase labour participation and better match labour supply and demand.
  • Prioritise knowledge expenditure, including by using tax incentives and other financial instruments to promote greater private R&D investments. In turn this spurs companies’ capacity to innovate and enables expansion of industries and job creation.
  • Support labour policies (this is directed to the private sector), which enhance job creating and productive capacity; such as employment tax incentive project. 
  • Pay decent wages and benefits which enable employees to meet basic needs, improve their standard of living. By increasing families’ take-home pay, workers gain both financial security and an increased ability to purchase goods and services, thus creating jobs for other South Africans. 

By themselves, these suggestions and labour market policies cannot solve youth unemployment. To create more jobs, it is critical for the economy to achieve more rapid, sustained and inclusive growth. 

South Africa’s unemployment is critical on its own, add the youth who are soon to be the highest demographic in the country, that situation quickly becomes a crisis, add their frustrations at being ignored and excluded, you will now have an angry, agitated and impatient youth ready for a revolution.

Read more from Mamokgethi:

Cosatu – undone by its own hand

When politics fails the economy, it condemns the nation to fail

If you don’t invest in your country, why should outsiders?

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talk talk talk – where is the action? agree 100% that youth unemployment is THE major worry that ALL South Africans should be concerned about. what I’m reading tho’ – even from the likes of max du preez et al- is that the haves will do everything to hold onto what they have. country needs to re-built from the bottom up

The author is correct, sort of.
He completely underplays the education aspect and only puts it third on the list. Here is the hard truth: Only highly educated people have any hope of finding employment in the future. Globalisation and the fourth industrial revolution will guarantee that. The rest of us are going to be asking the pertinent question: “Would you like fries with that?”

And let’s be very clear on this one: Only the ANC government and SADTU are to blame for the education fiasco. Not business, and certainly not the much maligned white citizens of SA.
Secondly, and the fact that this is never, ever, mentioned by government, any political party, or the media, is absolutely Orwellian: There are too many people, period. In SA, on the continent and in the world. And once again, in the SA context, this cannot be laid at the door of business, or of those much maligned white citizens. In 1900 the B/W ratio was 5/2. In 1990 that had gone to 16/2 or 8/1. From 1994 to 2016 one part of the demographic went from 30 million to 45 million, an increase of 50% in less than one single generation. The other part of the demographic had no growth whatsoever. Of course, the mere mention of these statistics is now so abhorrent and politically incorrect that we all start sweating and squirming.

Business, the market and the world economy are what they are. They produce the means that allow society to organise and better the circumstances of its members. Or at least, that is the outcome if government promotes a free market and an environment that is business-friendly. The outcome is the direct opposite if government flouts basic human and property rights and absolutely insists on following a 1950’s communist era model that failed spectacularly in each and every country where it was tried. And there were many such examples – and some of them went on for three generations. So the jury is no longer out – communist diktat economies suck. Big time. So at this point all I can say to my fellow countrymen is – good luck and hang on, it’s going to be a wild ride.

If you run for president you have my vote – our country is too politically sensitive for anyone to consider the actual realitie which we face in the global context ..not just our little bubble here on the tip of Africa

Some inconvenient truths for the PC crowd! Some of our primary & secondary education outcomes can still be blamed on the spectre of bantu-education though, as is lingering structural inequalities that plays into low-skill outcomes, but the fact that very little progress is made is the largely the govts fault, period. And it is time that we frankly address the black elephant in the room: our population has grown at 7 times the global average rate since 1900; add to that all our permanent visitors from up north, and you have too many people for too little economy. The crunch is coming from two sides.

What scares me is what SA will be like in 20 years with probably 75 million people but only 10 million jobs…

This lost generation will never even want to work. In the rural areas after waiting years for typically politicians empty promises to materialize they have resorted to other means to provide food. Mostly illegal. My own farm staff’s children have come to me asking where are the houses and jobs promised by government. Nothing will ever come those are vote pulling promises. These kids now resort to stock theft, shop lifting and stealing from the frail pensioners on pension day.
The parents take their kids out of school at child bearing age to have children to get the grants. There are grants for Aids, nerves etc the list goes on and on so if this grant system supplies their needs why work???? The uprising will come if the farms are taken over and there is no more agriculture. There are still farmers who employ casual labor and with no farms there will be no stock to steal. This government has bred this baby now they need to fix it. How?? I don’t know but taking from the haves for the have nots is not the solution. There are those sitting on the fence that are haves in other countries who happily crow about giving it all back knowing they are safe.

There is one solution to curbing youth unemployment. The youth themselves must create their own employment. How I don’t know. What I know is that they are creative enough to get by with nothing. They channel all that negativity into positivity. Surely they will need some help and support. They cannot simply expect everything in a platter.

Agree with you Boomarang, problem is the red tape created by the very same government that caused this mess. Seen it with my own eyes. Rural town hawkers selling cigarettes, fruit sweets etc have to have a license. That is bought from the municipality. Self employment dead in the water.

Was interested I this article…unitl I read “mostly black graduates”. White or black or indian or Chinese….companies and economies are not looking for nonsense degrees such as religious studies, ba’s, political science etc. The youth should rather work harder on obtaining degrees in fields such as engineering, medical, accounts, law etc. I challenge anyone to show me a youth with this kind of qualification, of any skin colour, who cannot get a job. Just saying!

I’m white and have a BA LLB MSc Property Studies and could not get into either a law firm or listed property company. Not black enough. It took me almost 6 months to find a job. Affirmative action for all its merits/demerits is a real thing and has limited my opportunities in a massive way. Luckily I have found the private sector more interested in my services but for the rest, they aren’t interested.

PS It’s not even a case of competing with similarly qualified applicants – I am by far the most qualified and yet significantly less qualified folks are preferred.

So no, those professions you listed do not guarantee anything in SA.

Great article, thank you. You are 100% right. This country, its leaders and each one of us have failed the youth, the school system failed them too.

I would like to suggest that we start a program similar to the CCC/YCC, It worked well for America, it can work for us – Civillian Conservation Corps / Youth Conservation Corps

There are millions of baby-boomers and many younger skilled people who have been squeezed out of the economy, with many skills and years of experience, which should be transferred to the youth, before all the knowledge and skill is lost…

But we should STOP talking, NOT start an investigating commitee, just START doing something in EACH community.

Please take the time to read the following articles:

I believe we are already beyond the point of no return. It is too late to advise government on job-creating policies. It is too late for education to make any difference to the unemployable youth.
This situation of an “angry, agitated and impatient youth” has inertia and is gaining momentum.

The combination of a corrupt and incapable government, low employment, a weak economy, credit downgrades and the rising cost of living will lend more impetus to these emotions.

I am not saying the impatience of the youth is acceptable or unacceptable, my opinion is irrelevant anyway. – We are actually busy advising the youth to “eat cake” after they ran out of bread.

What we as readers of Moneyweb should in fact be doing is to ask ourselves how are we going to protect our livelihood, personal safety and assets from a situation where the security forces have been overrun by the hungry, angry, agitated and impatient youth. It is this question that keeps me awake at night.

Totally agree, it’s beyond being optimistic or pessimistic. It’s about being real. We’re stuck with a generation of unemployable individuals whose ability to compete/offer any service of value is declining at a rapid rate. They are agitated and impatient, this being fuelled populist racialised rhetoric aimed at scapegoating a minority. Coligny is a microcosm of a bigger issue.

This has nothing to do with business, it’s squarely a government failure. We pay taxes in exchange for services. If this is somehow a business problem, then what on earth are we paying taxes for?

Aside from SADTU, I believe the ANC prefers a nation of illiterate, uneducated masses. Who else would continue to vote for a government whose failure is as patent as the sky is blue?

As sad as it is to say, I don’t have faith we can turn this around and will be immigrating as soon as I can. For those who are interested, the immigration process is incredibly costly, uncertain and takes years.

You’re going about it wrong then! Just need to find a likely foreign lass (or lad), put a ring on it for a couple of years, and presto! You’re in!

@Enlightened – thanks, my lass/wife is a Brit but the prospect of living in England for any period of time is almost inconceivable. We going for Oz which as @Robertinsydney has said, is getting tougher but I’m confident it will work out. England is a distant plan B but a plan nonetheless

Seems my comment got stuck in the moderation Mobius strip…

* Rapidly clean up government
* Attract much more businesses

I have serious misgivings when an author pens this drivel, because he fails to investigate the real reasons for the scenario being expounded.
This very ANC government made false promises of a cornucopia of wealth for all citizens through the acquisition of houses, jobs and education, and, that this required no effort by the masses – this was pure unadulterated vote grabbing. Since the early 70’s (in this country) computer programs have concentrated on making peoples jobs far more productive and the trade off was reduced staffing, the next wave of robotics has significantly changed the landscape forever. When banks introduced high speed cheque scanning it put 10’s of thousands of people out of work. Staff (cost to company) is the single biggest expense and they are the people who generally go on strike so productivity is compromised.
The ANC government are/were too stupid to see this express train exiting the tunnel and they are at risk of being annihilated. It serves no purpose to apportion any blame to business they didn’t can the technical colleges, or change the education system so that stupids could attend varsity. Business is sitting in a tornado of governments poor policies, labour laws/regulations which curtail growth – without stability you will encourage business not to expand it business
So please dear author look to the realities of this country and acknowledge that it is government promises, poor policies, greed, and lack of intelligence that will bring us to your scene setting fulcrum

Our labour force is already overpayed when productivety is considered
Visitors to SA are gobsmacked at how lazy and unproductive our workforce is , that is why most tradesmen come from Zim ,Mozambique , Malawi etc. The will to work comes from within .
I am gatvol of this ”gimme, gimme attitude.
Next time the author drives past a road gang(normally 10 )if 2 labourers are working it is a lot
So consider what our unemployment rate would be if 80 % of municipal and government employees were fired.
I was part of a workshop where a German steel worker told us that German steel workers are 16 times more productive than SA steel workers.
It is not the fault of ”white capitalism”that factories are closing in this country, it is the piss-poor attitude of the work force.
Those who say the youth need highly skilled and highly paid jobs must realise a country is built from the bottom up not from the top down.
Our schools are rated 138 out of 138 countries for maths and science. THAT IS LAST

Yes productivity in SA is really low. I always notice this on my first coffee on arrival in SA at the usual Mugg and Bean-type place.

In spite of being the only customer or one of two or three, it takes the staff of, like 10 or 15, several minutes to realise I am there and offer me a menu. I usually order a small latte with an extra shot. This seriously complicates things and usually after several minutes of confusion and delay, they bring me a large latte with one shot, or something else but always wrong. I am now used to going up to the till and showing them how to add 1 shot of espresso to an existing coffee. It’s quicker.

Then after much more confusion, it takes many more minutes to find someone to try get the bill. It’s cute the first time but gets old fast… In London two Poles do three times the work of 10 in SA.

So true of much of the retail customer facing sector in South Africa.

On our far too few European UK trips it is simply ASTONISHING how productive / fast the service is. Efficient and usually friendly too.

Most retail employees in SA would not get a job sweeping the streets of Barcelona, Spain.

In Paris we saw waiters laden with heavy trays virtually running down the aisle to serve fabulous food. The staff come from many areas of Europe including Russia so this is not limited to a few countries.

Yes indeed. My granddaughter and I had a quick meal at an old fashioned mezzanine level restaurant in Sandton City yesterday. 2 gin and tonics, 2 wraps. R40.00 tip for the waitress (mighty expensive G&Ts). I really resented giving her R40.00 – she was so disinterested and offhand. The place was really very quiet. We were thanked profusely when we left, but the service was dis-spiriting. So depressing.

I don’t believe the problem is just the workers. Management is a big problem too and this is poor or non-existent in SA. Even if you can find a manager in a Mugg and Bean or Spur, they’re as dopey as their workers and usually sleeping in the office.

In a big high-volume London café or restaurant (like a Pret or Wasabi) the manager and assistant managers are everywhere. Working the tills, running around checking tables, queues and moving their people around. They are always out front of house. The music is bouncy and upbeat which keeps a buzzy vibe to the place. They also hire alert and fast people. If the location isn’t getting the volumes to keep it busy, they shut it down and try somewhere else. It’s not rocket science, really.

And hot off the press: General Motors is leaving SA.

“We determined that continued or increased investment in manufacturing in SA would not provide GM the expected returns of other global investment opportunities.”

The market always wins. Regardless what the government numpties think or do.

They’re leaving India too… #justsaying

SA is not India.

What happens India is irrelevant to our own failures which are race based and self inflicted. Full stop.

Not really suprised. ANCYL begged for downgrade now they got it. Perhaps they will reviel their master plan later to show us how they will create jobs.

Meaningless article stating the obvious in cliche’s.
Including private biz in this “we” what must fix it is rubbish.The problem is caused solely by the corrupt and racists ANC politics.Newest – SABC wasted R5billion !!! Nobody accountable.

Sure we have over population, unrestricted Africa boarder access, poor education, unrealistic and unearned expectations, poor political decisions, etc. but from a country point of view and 23 years down the line, the state of government and governmental institutions, local government, municipalities, (with a few DA exceptions), are mainly the handwork of the ANC government…and what a mess?
WHO did most of these jobless people vote for?…ANC?..If so then surely this is what they wanted or at least expected?

I can understand the anger of the young not seeing much of a future. Same happened in the EU, they call it the lost generation.

But please do not take it out on the Non-politicians, the South Africans of all colors that commute for an hour or more to work and another hour back in horrendous traffic.

The South Africans of all colors that worked to pay one of the highest taxes in the world. We did our best, we worked very hard for our money to try and pay all the bills, the tax and the politicians FAR pay checks.

Please speak to the politicians that did not care about public money, did not care about ratings, did not care about making it attractive for companies to invest in S.A, the ones that did not care about you.

We need to PAY young girls to NOT get pregnant.

Instead, we’re ENTHUSIASTICALLY handing out social grants as a reward for really stupid behaviour that has immediate and far-reaching consequences that SA cannot afford (crime, no jobs, ineducability etc).

But stupid as they may be, these girls are clever enough to see the gap, and exploit the system for all it is worth. Have three babies as fast as you can, and voila – TRIPPLE the income!

I don’t (entirely) blame these girls. In their position it is a simple economics decision.

The people who really ARE to blame – IMHO – are our wonderful economists who think this unsurprising human behaviour has got NOTHING to do with them. Or the ECONOMICS of this country.

It should be on every economists’ top-of-mind to devise an ATTRACTIVE solution that makes it WORTHWHILE for girls like these to defer having their babies until they – and the country – are ready for it.

It would be cheap at the price!

They should rather pay them a good amount to be sterilised.
African culture needs a mindset change where making babies is a means to hook a man for financial gain.

The author quoted Stats SA. Recently Stats SA showed the growth in the various population groups since 1994:

Black people increased from 30 million people to 45 million people now, a 50% increase, adding 15 million people to an already poor majority. The coloured population increased somewhat and the Indian and White populations stayed the same.

Since 1994 the ANC has not produced any leadership on people having much smaller families. Namibia, however, has huge billboards showing that couples should not have more children than they can afford! (Showing two children.)

To be fair to black people, they should be compared to their peer group in surrounding countries, who are also moving away from subsistence agriculture in the rural areas, to try and get access to the semi-industrial economies around the cities. How to bring these people forward should be the main economic question to be addressed.

There’s really no need to worry. Old Zupta783 has promised to create SIX MILLION jobs. So the youth can relax as the prez never lies. All Zupta783’s family managed to get good jobs, directorships even. So I don’t understand why the youth of the country can’t get jobs.

we should really stop making excuses for people, there’s many people who come from destitute backgrounds who have managed to make it. People need to be encourage to fight and earn their place in the world. the government has never and will never ever do anything for anyone.

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