Addressing the plight of SA’s youth
Bavelile Hlongwa is well-aware of the difficulties facing young South Africans. In fact, one of
her responsibilities is to help liberate the youth of the country from poverty and inequality.
As the Deputy Executive Chairper- son of the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA),
Hlongwa is also responsible for briefing the President on youth development matters and ensuring that the agency lobbies different sectors to address the plight of youth.
“I work closely with the chair- person to monitor the work of the NYDA. We spend some of our time engaging with young peo- ple about programmes that can improve their lives,” she told PSM in an interview.
The NYDA was established by an act of Parliament, Act no. 54 of 2008, primarily to tackle challenges facing the nation’s youth. It is ex- pected to address youth develop- ment issues at national, provincial and local government level.
The agency’s focus is on those from the age of 14 to 35. These young people make up 42 percent of the country’s population and are directly and highly affected by the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality. The NYDA is also tasked with initiating youth programmes, mainstreaming youth development and monitoring and evaluating progress and its work is supported by government, private sector and civil society.
Hlongwa explained that the agency’s initiatives must be aligned with the outcomes that have been agreed on by all stake- holders.“All institutions involved re- port directly to the Presidency and the Ministry of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, which has been delegated to oversee national youth development,” she said.
Extending the NYDA’s reach
The NYDA currently has 16 offices across the country where young people can access grants and submit their ideas to ask for differ- ent types of training.
“We are planning to open 18 more offices this financial year. We want to have at least one of- fice per district municipality so that young people can access services. It is especially hard for young people to access our services in those provinces where we only have a single office,” she said.
The KwaZulu-Natal born and bred Hlongwa believes that her job is important because it impacts on the lives of many young people. “There is nothing as satisfying as knowing that you have helped somebody and you have given them hope. I want to help ensure that young people are liberated from poverty and unemployment,” she said.
Hlongwa has always been an activist at heart, having started in youth activism at the age of 17 in her home town. She also has ex- perience in community service as she volunteered to do door-to-door campaigns for the Department of Health and assist patients who live with different ailments.
She completed a BSc Chemical Engineering degree at the Univer- sity of KwaZulu-Natal and was a student leader. Hlongwa is cur- rently studying towards her Master of Business Administration degree and was appointed to her current portfolio in May 2017.
Through her engagement with young people, Hlongwa has real- ised that the biggest problem in South Africa is that young people think that finding a job is essen- tial and they forget that there is another path open to them – that of entrepreneurship which allows them to become self-employed. Because the job vacancies that are currently available in govern- ment cannot accommodate the 15 million job seekers in the coun- try, Hlongwa said the NYDA encourages youngsters to start businesses to create jobs for themselves and others.
“We have programmes to assist them if they want to start businesses. We also encourage them to go to school, get skills and become academics,” she said.
The NYDA has a grant pro- gramme which targets young people who are looking to start businesses. Successful applicants are taken through entrepreneur- ship training.
“We look into your idea and if it is an idea that needs a business plan, we will assist you to develop it through a voucher programme,” she said.
Hlongwa explained that it is only once a business plan is in place that a development finance institu- tion is approached for a grant.
Once a grant has been awarded, the entrepreneur is assigned a mentor to help ensure that start-up takes place successfully.
“It is a grant programme because we do not expect young people to pay back the capital they received,” she added. The grant programme funds a minimum of 450 people across the country per year.
“Our grant programme supports all sectors. We have assisted young doctors and attorneys to open private practices, and we have also supported agriculture co- operatives,” Hlongwa said.
Education and skills
The NYDA has various education and skills programmes, including the Solomon Mahlangu scholar- ship programme which targets young people across different career paths who perform well academically.
In the four years it has been run- ning, the programme has ben- efited between 40 and 50 students per year. Almost 200 young people have been helped to further their studies.
“We also run the Collins Cha- bane School of Artisans in Pieter- maritzburg. Although the institution is in KwaZulu-Natal, it is open to artisans from across the country,” she said, adding that about 50 students will graduate this year.
The NYDA also has training pro- grammes in job preparedness and basic entrepreneurship and facilitates market linkages for young entrepreneurs.
“We connect them to market op- portunities. It is pointless to have a business that produces something when you are unable to sell it,” explained Hlongwa.
In an attempt to address youth challenges, one of the major poli- cies used by the NYDA to stream- line youth development is the National Youth Policy 2015–2020, which has five key priorities:
• Education, skills and second chances.
• Economic participation and transformation.
• Health and combating sub- stance abuse.
• Social cohesion and nation building.
• Effective and responsive youth development machinery.
The funding challenge
The work of the NYDA is not with- out challenges, the most pressing of which is funding. The NYDA has a budget of R400 million, which Hlongwa said is not really enough for the youth body to have suf- ficient impact.
“By legislation every company must have a corporate social investment (CSI) budget and if you look at the top-100 JSE-listed companies, they have a CSI budget of R7.8 billion. But when you look at the programmes that the private sector is using this money for, you find that they are painting pre-schools and sponsor- ing marathons. The NYDA believes that they should be spending this money on nationally declared challenges. The government has declared top challenges to be unemployment, poverty and in- equality, and programmes should go towards that,” she said.
“Our proposal is that government must change the legislation to say that of the required CSI budget per individual company, 50 percent should be contributed to government so that govern- ment can redistribute more capi- tal towards youth development,” Hlongwa added.
Young people in South Africa have been at the forefront of changing the status quo. Hlong- wa said the current generation can learn from the youth of 1976 who participated in the Soweto uprisings.
“The 1976 youth was saying,‘We have problems with education, we are being colonised further through the education system’ and they took it upon themselves to do something about it. The current youth can learn from that. When there is a problem you do not only complain about it, you do something to resolve it.You may not need to fight with anybody but you can always participate in addressing the challenges,” she added.
Hlongwa believes that the NYDA has so far been successful in its work, but that the emphasis should be on its social impact.