by SURAYA HAMDULAY
JOHANNESBURG – THIS year, as we reflect on the watershed events of 1976 and look towards the celebration of Youth Month, we realize that there are many moments in history where young people took bold and courageous decisions that they are no longer satisfied with the state of their lives.
The youth of 1976 reached a tipping point where their personal circumstances were no longer tolerable, and they decided that things needed to change.
We are facing a similar moment in time and 2020 will be remembered as the year that redefined the way we see the world, the way we work, travel, interact, and live our lives.
An unseen pandemic has brought the future to meet us sooner than expected and has disrupted life as we know it. Millions of people around the world are suddenly left unemployed, businesses have shut down, economies have grinded to a halt and livelihoods are hanging in the balance.
But amidst an uncertain future and mass global unemployment, how will the most vulnerable in society fair? The youth will undoubtedly be unequally impacted.
In South Africa, where we already have high youth unemployment, what are the prospects for youth in a post-pandemic world? Statistics South Africa points out that the country’s official unemployment rate had remained at 29.1% in the fourth quarter last year – the highest since 2008.
Data also reveals that the number of employed persons increased by 45,000 and the number of unemployed persons decreased by 8,000. It is therefore, only a matter of time before unemployment in South Africa shoots through the 30% mark.
I believe there are various lenses to look at the future, the one that I chose is optimism. In his first TED Talk in 2009, author, Simon Sinek, best known for popularising the concept of why… talks about the difference between positivity and optimism and points out that optimist people acknowledge the dark times, yet decide to be positive despite this.
I believe that the youth of South African need to move beyond the narrative of powerlessness as we simply do not have the luxury of being powerless. Let’s look around us and see how the global pandemic has forced the entire world to embrace technology and leverage all of its capabilities to keep the world’s population connected, working and engaged. Through technology we were able to bridge the social distance challenge and transcend the global shutdown.
Large technology companies saw the opportunity to enable and empower even more people through technology platforms, causing an unprecedented use of tech platforms reaching and connecting more people than ever before.
There are enough resources, opportunities and lessons for the youth. All they need do is make use of what is available. They do not have the luxury of being helpless but should leverage every social media platform which they have access to in order to educate and empower themselves.
Youth should actively move from being consumers of content and data to leveraging content and data to educate themselves, skills themselves, become entrepreneurs, social innovators and value creators. Large tech giants like Google, Facebook and IBM have large open source free education platforms. Youth should seek these out and upskill themselves. If the 4th Industrial Revolution is already here, youth should learn to code, explore robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other future skills.
We no longer have an excuse that we do not have access to technology. In the past few months, more information and platforms have opened to global free usage than ever before. The youth of today have taught themselves to create content, create memes, make TikTok videos, mix music and engage on these global platforms in funny and creative ways. Africa has no lack of talent. It is up to the youth to acknowledge their own talent, believe it and harness it to create new and relevant income opportunities.
It is in thinking differently about the world and our circumstances that we can drive solutions and solve problems, giving rise to social innovation and entrepreneurship.
Youth need to be self-motivated and proactive in seeking out opportunities that will propel their future success.
Today’s youth may see themselves as disempowered and marginalised, or they can decide to be stubbornly optimistic and use this optimism to drive themselves forward.
According to the United Nations, Africa has the largest concentration of young people in the world with 226 million youth aged 15-24 living on the continent representing nearly 20% of Africa’s population, making up one fifth of the world’s youth population.
Africa has the largest youth population in the world, imagine the power the youth possess, to redesign their future, to take charge of it and to be the ultimate beneficiaries of an inclusive economy which they have co-created.
Bold and courageous decisions will require tremendous courage and resolve from the youth of today. As it did with the South African youth of 1976, that turning point in our history when youth organized themselves and took collective decisions about their future, they stood up to the might and force of a brutal regime and they decided that they wanted a different life and a different future- one where all people were equal and human rights and dignity was restored to all citizens.
NB: Suraya Hamdulay, Executive Partner at Tsa Rona Insight & Analytics
– CAJ News