Poor economy is choking our youth

The National Youth Coalition (NYC) and other civil society organisations march to the Union Buildings from Loftus Versfeld for their annual Youth Day Parade for Justice & Change on June 16, 2023. Picture: Jacques Naude Independent Newspapers

The National Youth Coalition (NYC) and other civil society organisations march to the Union Buildings from Loftus Versfeld for their annual Youth Day Parade for Justice & Change on June 16, 2023. Picture: Jacques Naude Independent Newspapers

Published Jun 22, 2024


According to online website South African History Online (SAHO), the June 16, 1976 Uprising that began in Soweto and spread countrywide profoundly impacted South Africa's socio-political landscape.

It adds that the events that triggered the uprising can be traced back to policies of the apartheid government that resulted in the introduction of the Bantu Education Act in 1953.

An online encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, says this education system was aimed at training the children for the manual labour and menial jobs that the government deemed suitable for those of their race, and it was explicitly intended to inculcate the idea that black people were to accept being subservient to white South Africans.

Just as the youth of ’76 contended with Bantu education, today’s youth are being choked by something akin to Bantu education but on the economic front. Let’s loosely call it the “Bantu Economy”.

The Bantu Economy is an economic condition where low growth and the high cost of living, running a business or accessing finance results in many people being pushed away from the mainstream economy.

Many young people from remote rural areas that lack adequate development do not have economic opportunities in the lands of their birth.

At the same time, it has become expensive for them to travel to the cities that offer growth opportunities. Those who have travelled and were fortunate to gain employment have to stretch their income on accommodation, transport costs, groceries, taking care of their children and those they left at home. All these have continued to rise unabated.

These days, young people from poor communities go to underfunded schools because the government simply cannot allocate funds that meet the demand. These learners have to make do with insufficient resources, compromising their potential and ultimately their future prospects.

The much-publicised National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) crisis over the past few months, which saw some students being threatened with evictions at a time when they were sitting for their exams, adds salt to the wound.

After attaining democracy, the country may have escaped the clutches of Bantu education. The #FeesMustFall movement may have gone a long way in expanding access to higher education.

However, the Bantu Economy, which in many ways drives many people, especially the youth, further away from economic emancipation, remains.

While some have been employed as educator assistants for a few months, some went back to being unemployed when the contracts ended.

Some young people tried to start businesses, only to see their them fold by the third year.

Other young people found employment, but still had to resort to debt to keep up with the high cost of living.

The country’s social ills, such as alcohol abuse, crime, gender-based violence, under-development and unemployment, continue to add financial strain on many young people.

Democracy was meant to allow all, regardless of their race, economic standing and background, access to equal opportunities.

But the Bantu Economy seems to stand against our hard-earned democracy itself. The Bantu Economy seems to be gaining the upper hand. It is taking over the narrative as it is based on the ground reality of many.

Some two decades after the Bantu Education Act was enacted in 1953, young South Africans said enough is enough. Unfortunately, they paid a heavy price for that, but ultimately triumphed.

In 2015, the #FeesMustFall Movement drove the point home, albeit at a great cost to our higher education system.

But the Bantu Economy continues to inflict great damage and suffering to the lives of young people.

Traces of its impact can be seen in the July 2021 riots that debilitated South Africa’s economy.

Commemorating June 16 this year should be about crushing the head of the Bantu Economy. The country now has to strive to unlock development in all the country’s communities, thereby creating educational, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities where young people are based. It does not augur well that community infrastructure is crumbling, public institutions are under-resourced and the youth wallow in hopelessness.

The pain the Bantu Economy is inflicting on young people is just too much to carry into the South Africa we aspire to. If we do, we risk entering the Promised Land with the bones of many of our youth and not with their happy hearts.

As the country enters the 50th commemoration of June 16 in the next two years, it is time that the South African government, businesses and the broader society strive to lighten the load for the country’s young people.

*Given Majola is a multimedia reporter at Business Report.