South Africa has one of the world’s highest unemployment rates accounting for around 6.7-million people, 67% of whom are young people.
Young unemployed people, mainly graduates clad in their graduation gowns and armed with their certificates, converged at Pretoria’s Church Square where they demonstrated to raise awareness of their plight. Their plan of marching to the Union Buildings to deliver a memorandum of demands was derailed by the police enforcing the Disaster Management Act.
A war of words erupted after the police told the protesters to disperse and rather postpone their action until they get permission from the municipality for a gathering under the national lockdown rules.
“We can’t postpone poverty, we can’t postpone our suffering. Kill us the way you killed miners,” chanted one youth to a rousing response from his fellow graduates.
In the end, police gave them only 30 minutes to have their programme within the confines of Church Square.
The march was organised by Unemployment Graduates Movement of South Africa (UGMSA) with solidarity partners in Abantu Batho Congress (ABC).
One of the concerns they raised was that unemployed graduates are not included in the policy and decision-making of the country but are used by politicians to campaign and gather votes in election season instead.
“We know unemployment among graduates is rife in South Africa; here we are raising awareness so our government may hear us. We can provide solutions to reform our education system. It must be inclusive, match economic demands and create jobs. Look at Tshwane University of Technology: they have produced sanitisers responding to covid but government still supports the private sector,” said Wandile Msweli, a 25-year-old B-Tech Accounting graduate from Mangosuthu University of Technology.
He said he has struggled to find employment since 2016 when he completed his studies. One of the worst forms to apply for a job, he says, is the Z83 form which he wants to see abolished because it is outdated. It is the form all applicants for employment in government departments must complete. He also reflected on the agricultural sector, that it should involve young people producing food for government to procure, which it would do if they were serious about empowering young people.
Nkululeko Ndlovu, president of UGMSA, said they have been talking to government on issues affecting young people for three years, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. “We are now declaring war. We’ll hold South Africa ungovernable. We are giving them seven days to respond.”
He said the system of government of the country is not designed to empower young people, while the majority of the current working generation is old and refuses to retire and graduates languish in poverty. “How do you justify that almost 30–35-million young people are unemployed, 12-million are on grants and a mere 5-million are on learnership with stipends?”
He referenced employment inequality, bemoaning that the country’s economy is still in white hands. Nearly three quarters of agricultural land is white-owned while indigenous black Africans only occupy 14% of the land. He also lashed political parties for failing to uplift young people though they may have youth wings. “Only a handful and those connected to their political masters have been absorbed.”
Ayanda Mabaso, a 21-year-old matriculant who participated in the gathering, said it’s very painful and costly to apply for a job. She made an effort and sacrificed a lot to finish matric hoping to help her poor family but a job has not been forthcoming. “That’s why most of us end up in prostitution and selling our bodies to men,” she said sadly.