#Vukuzakhe: Our job is to empower our young people
Note to Editors: The following speech was delivered today by Democratic Alliance (DA) Leader, Mmusi Maimane, during the launch of the party’s “Total Change for Jobs” campaign in Emfuleni, Gauteng.
Fellow South Africans
The plight of young people – our country’s next generation - is a cause close to my heart, and something I care deeply about.
It was this burden I carry for young people that led me into politics, and not the other way around. Throughout my life, in many different capacities, I have worked to see young people reach their true potential by breaking down the barriers to their success. From my very first job as a youth coordinator, to now leading the DA, the empowerment of young people has been my priority.
Over the past few weeks, I have travelled the country on my People’s Forum Tour. I have spoken to many young people in communities, villages, towns and cities. I have met with South Africans to listen to them and their concerns, their hopes and their needs.
Everywhere I go, I hear the same story. It is just told in different ways. A story of despair, frustration, hopelessness, and a sense of “why keep trying?” and “when will it ever change?”
Young people have told me that unless you have a family member “connected” to government or crooked business, you cannot get a job.
Young women have told me that too often the only way to get hired is through a “carpet interview” – when an employer demands sex from the applicant.
Young men have told me that unless you have money to pay your local councillor a bribe, you will never be considered for an EPWP job.
Just last week, a young man in KwaMashu told me that he has been unemployed for over 2 years, and that for him it feels worse than a jail sentence. I asked him why, and he told me that at least when someone is sent to jail, the court tells them - you’ll be in jail for 6 months, or 3 years, or 20 years.
For him, his time without a job has no limit. It is a never-ending prison.
Fellow South Africans,
These are the stories of our young people. Their stories are our stories.
I’m not here to point fingers, or to say the ANC government is keeping our youth in hopelessness. This finger pointing doesn’t help young people find work.
Rather, I’m here to tell you what we are doing right now to help, what we intend to do in national government when elected, and to ask you what more can we do to fight your fight, in Parliament, government, business, labour, and civil society.
Because we cannot carry on this way any longer. This room, just like this country, is full of young people with ideas, with dreams, and with potential. Every young person has a place in our society, and we must create an environment where this can happen.
We often talk about big plans and big policies to beat unemployment, and this is good. We must have this vision. Attracting more investment and growing the economy is ultimately how we will create the jobs we need.
But that’s a long-term solution that will take years to bear fruit. The five million unemployed young South Africans can’t wait that long. We also need immediate solutions.
Similarly, looking at ways to fund higher education for poor students is an important part in beating youth unemployment. But this will only ever address a small part of the problem. Even if we found the money to cover fees, there’s only space for a few hundred thousand students at all our universities and colleges combined. That leaves another two million young people out in the cold.
So yes, we need these big plans. But we also need ideas that can work right now. We need to understand what it is that young people need to get a foot in the door, and then we have to get creative in making this happen.
One of these ideas is our new Vukuzakhe initiative – a programme that will connect young job-seekers with opportunities, and particularly internship opportunities.
The aim of Vukuzakhe is to link job-seekers with opportunities – a single portal where people can access all the internships on offer. But I’m not just talking about government internships here. We will challenge the private sector to come to the party too so that we can link young people up with internship opportunities in big and small businesses. I have already reached out to dozens of CEOs of companies across the country, asking them to come on board the Vukuzakhe project. And this is just the beginning.
A paid internship is one of the best ways to get onto the jobs ladder. It has so many advantages – both for the job-seeker and the employer – and there are already many internship opportunities out there. But young people don’t always know how and where to access them.
DA governments in municipalities and the Western Cape government offer thousands of these internships, but often they are not filled. Not because of a lack of interest, but because people simply don’t know about them. In the Western Cape alone, government has provided these for 4500 youth to the value of R27 million since 2012. They plan to spend R65.6 billion on youth development over the next 3 years.
There is a world of uncertainty and ambiguity between young jobseekers and the job market. Our aim is to bridge that gap.
Other ideas that have proven to be very successful in DA-run municipalities were the free data programme and the free MyCiti bus travel for jobseekers. It’s no good creating opportunities if people can’t access them. Searching and applying for jobs and getting to interviews cost money. And if you don’t have any, then all the opportunities in the world mean very little. These are the kind of projects we need to roll out across the country if we are serious about getting young people working right away, and we are looking into this where we govern.
I’d also like to see the Youth Cafes that have helped so many young people in the Western Cape to find and prepare for work, rolled out across the country. These are places where young people can access the internet, search a jobs database, get help in compiling their CV, print out documents and even complete short courses in things like digital training, entrepreneurship, project management and many more.
Another idea I’m very excited about is a one-year national civilian service, where young people will volunteer to enter work-based training after matric in fields like healthcare, education, policing and other projects that advance our country. In this programme you’ll get to choose the sector you’re interested in, and you’ll receive a monthly stipend while you build valuable skills. This is something we would implement in national government, equipping and upskilling young people.
We will also significantly increase funding available for young people who are starting their own businesses through a specified national venture capital fund.
But we can go further.
Why do young people need to pay the government to register their business? Business registration should be free across the board, allowing those who have a great idea to turn it into a job creating business.
We must also move to legalise the informal sector. Making illegal traders legal allows them to compete on an equal footing, and to grow their small business.
But we can go further.
What if we lived in a country where every person who wants to start their own business receives a small interest free loan of R1000 from government?
What if government owned buildings in city centres that were leased to young business owners and traders for R1 per month, creating many spaces of legal and fruitful economic activity?
These are just some of the ideas that can be rolled out immediately to help young South Africans connect with work opportunities. As I engage with more people in meetings like this and listen to their challenges and frustration, this list of ideas will grow. So please don’t stop talking to us and sharing your suggestions.
We keep on telling young people to wait. Wait for tomorrow, wait for your chance, wait for the economy to grow, wait for this, wait for that.
Young people are sick and tired of waiting. They are ready to take charge of their own lives. They are ready to “Vukuzakhe” – to get up and do it.
We must ask ourselves – are we listening to young people, and are we doing all we can to release them into their full potential.
I thank you.
Issued by the DA, 27 January 2018