Call for national youth service to tackle jobs problem

In his budget speech last week Finance Minister Trevor Manuel outlined the government's plan to spend money on improving the lives of most South Africans.

In his budget speech last week Finance Minister Trevor Manuel outlined the government's plan to spend money on improving the lives of most South Africans.

As part of this plan Manuel announced an increase in government grants aimed at alleviating poverty.

He also revealed that through the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative (Asgisa) the government planned to improve the country's productivity and create more jobs.

Unfortunately, Manuel did not mention any programme specifically aimed at dealing with the continuing economic and social marginalisation of the youth.

Youth here and throughout the world continue to face the huge challenges of unemployment and social marginalisation.

Youth make up more than 60percent of the population in this country. It is further estimated that more than 65 percent of them are unemployed.

Like most developing countries, South Africa faces a high school drop-out rate, high youth unemployment in rural areas where there is little economic activity, and high youth unemployment in the cities, which is compounded by rural-urban migration.

The consequences of these are juvenile delinquency, drug abuse and criminal behaviour.

A national youth service would go a long way in dealing with these challenges in a multipronged manner.

The government, to its credit, has produced initiatives such as the National Youth Commission and the Umsobomvu Fund to tackle these challenges.

The commission's mandate was largely to ensure government's programmes were inclined towards the needs of the youth. Umsobomvu on the other hand, was aimed at the economic empowerment of youth.

The government has also introduced learnership programmes to help unemployed graduates.

That these initiatives have not been effective has been evinced by the recent call by youth structures, including the ANC Youth League and the Young Communist League, that there should be an integrated youth service in place of the piecemeal and disjointed existing government- driven youth initiatives.

Experiences from countries such as Botswana and Jamaica have shown that an integrated national youth service can effectively deal with challenges facing the youth in developing countries.

In Jamaica the National Youth Service is a statutory body funded by the government and the private sector operating under the auspices of the ministry of education, youth and culture.

Its mission is largely to "address the different deficiencies in education and training by providing training opportunities for unemployed youth and those not enrolled in school".

Botswana and Jamaica also run volunteer and youth exchange programmes where youths are sent overseas to work as volunteers while acquiring other skills.

The experience has been that voluntarism instills patriotism, community responsibility and improves social consciousness.

An International Development Bank study in Jamaica in 2001 revealed that 60 percent of the youth enrolled eventually gained full-time employment or enrolled at tertiary institutions.

South Africa can definitely learn from its poorer neighbours.

Manuel should have announced the establishment of a national youth service.

This is probably a very expensive exercise, but if South Africa wants "to create a society where human life has equal worth and where every child has an equal opportunity to succeed" as Manuel said, it is a worthwhile one to attempt.