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SA’s Young People Still Face Unemployment And Poverty

On the 44th anniversary of the June 16 uprising, youth unemployment and poverty are once again brought into sharp focus.

Twenty-six years since the dawn of democracy and South Africa still has one of the world’s highest unemployment rates at 29%, accounting for around 6.7 million people.

These staggering figures are expected to continue rising as the effects of COVID- 19 further cripple the economy and compromise prospects of employment for many.

No one could have anticipated the economic and social upheaval COVID-19 brought across the world – and South Africa, already vulnerable – was not spared.

While the country enjoys the privileges for which many – including the youth of 1976 sacrificed – young people in 2020 are faced with major struggles of their own.

They account for 63% of the unemployed and Statistics South Africa’s Malerato Mosiane says the prospects of getting out of their misery is only higher for those with a tertiary qualification.

“For instance, in the fourth quarter of 2019 the unemployment rate among young people aged 15 to 24 years was 7.6% and among those with other tertiary qualifications the rate was 18.3%.”

Mosiane says young people remain vulnerable in the labour market.

“It seems that there is some sort of mismatch between the skills that people have and the skills that employers need in the South African labour market.”

After an economically costly lockdown, National Treasury anticipates the country’s unemployment rate could reach 40% and that young people will in all likelihood continue to bear the brunt.


More than 60% of South Africans who have so far applied for government’s special COVID-19 relief grant are young people between the ages of 18 and 35.

Many of those counted as youth in South Africa today were part of a fight four years ago to force the government to provide free tertiary education to increase chances of employment.

Khululile Mkhize is a BCom Accounting graduate from the University of Johannesburg.

She now finds herself without a job and is one of thousands of recipients of government’s R350 unemployment grant, but that won’t be for long.

“My mom had a salary cut, hence I decided to apply for it in May. When I got that money, I used it for basic needs and I bought toiletries. I could say it really does make a difference.”

God’sgift Shabangu graduated from Wits University with a degree in education and is also desperate for a job.

He too applied for the grant and is still waiting.

“I haven’t received it. I don’t know why. I haven’t received an update on my application. Obviously, the grant means I can afford a few things, especially with transport because as graduates we are not just sitting around not doing anything. We are sending our CVs. A lot of schools want you to drop off your CV, so that’s transport money. If you don’t have an income, that’s a lot so that grant would have helped in that way.”

A despondent Shabangu says for him Youth Day has lost its meaning.

“We have not seen their dream come to a realisation. We have not seen the youth become economically empowered. We have not seen the youth go to school and graduate and get a job. So it’s mixed feelings for me because as much as we appreciate the youth of 1976, we still feel like what do have to show for that struggle?”

And while Statistics South Africa says the unemployment rate among young people with tertiary education is lower, for Mkhize and Shabangu this offers very little comfort.