Youth Day is here and our youth are suffering

Years later, we acknowledge the struggles of young people who fought against hate and the violation of human rights whilst also dealing with the ongoing battles of inequality, injustice and unfairness in South Africa.

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The 16th June is an important day on South Africa’s national calendar. As a nation, we remember the efforts by young people who took part in the Soweto Uprising, and strongly protested against discrimination on the grounds of race, colour and language. Years later, we acknowledge the struggles of young people who fought against hate and the violation of human rights whilst also dealing with the ongoing battles of inequality, injustice and unfairness in South Africa.

Unemployment and lack of opportunities

It’s clear following recent statistics that unemployment, especially amongst the youth, is terribly high. According to Stats SA, by the end of 2018, youth unemployment was close to 40%. This raises major concerns over the prospects of young people being able to make a living and essentially, survive in our country which is already grossly unequal.

At the same time, there seems to be a problem for young people to find jobs despite their qualifications. After graduating from universities, colleges and high school, the chances of finding jobs within your qualifications is extremely difficult, since many businesses require experience for many positions, which makes it harder for young people to find suitable jobs and occupations in their various fields.

Despite the ANC calling the high unemployment rate a national disaster and the recent remarks by President Ramaphosa to solve the barriers causing unemployment, there has not been many positive outcomes in recent years. In fact, eNCA reported that 237 000 people have lost their jobs since the beginning of this year, highlighting a major job crisis in our country.

This situation is a dire one because it consequently causes a deeper cycle of poverty and inequality in South Africa, one that the next generation will unfortunately inherit. It is crucial that the public and private sector engage to determine how this cycle can be broken, so that our generation will be lifted and empowered to have opportunities to prosper and succeed.

Mental Health, Trauma and Moving Forward

A scary trend in young people around the world, including South Africa, is the growing epidemic of mental illnesses. As recommended by the United Nations’ socio-economic rights committee, mental healthcare should be prioritised including mental health awareness. Civil society and government should be working together on this important task.

However, we are not seeing much being done. As expressed by students from various educational institutions, there have only been “talks” at events where people speak about the importance of mental health, but after that, there has not been any implementation of improving healthcare or access to mental healthcare by institutions or the government.

One of the solutions that should be considered by the Higher Education Department is to mandate all educational institutions to adopt a mental health policy that will inform students of the procedures, rules and avenues they can choose that will provide them with reasonable accommodation when they are suffering from a mental illness. Indeed, more structural changes will need to be made, but having a binding policy is an appropriate step forward.

Gender Based Violence and the Scourge of Misogyny

Young people, especially women and children, have faced severe forms of violence in their living, work and educational spaces. This reality has only, in recent years, been making headlines in the country. Last year, President Ramaphosa and stakeholders met at a summit to discuss the way forward in dealing with gender-based violence.

Gender-based violence is both physical and sexual in nature, and most of the time involves a male figure abusing a woman and a younger individual. The statistics in South Africa regarding sexual and physical violence are outrageous and greatly affect our young people. Between 25% and 40% of women in South Africa have experienced sexual or physical assault in their lifetime.

The birthplace of gender-based violence is misogyny itself which is rooted in our patriarchal society and the way men are raised. Problematic social norms such as men being raised with the notions of being superior to women and being entitled to women’s bodies are directly linked to the way they treat, objectify and use women. The lack of consent and respect for a woman’s rights and dignity are signs of misogyny blinding a man from seeing their immoral actions.

Discrimination and Ignorance

Young people today, also referred to as “the born frees” were expected to be a generation that lacks biases, stereotypes and major prejudicial thoughts to people who are different to them. However, it is overwhelmingly clear that racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism and religious intolerance exist even in the younger generations.

There have been a number of cases of white supremacy lurking in our schools where students of colour have been mistreated for things such as hair, language and self-expression. In addition to this, white students who have been overtly racist to black students have been protected by certain school bodies without facing major consequences.

In South Africa, in general, there has been a move towards accepting the LGBTQ+ community but despite the law protecting the queer community, it still faces hostility and hate. Black members of the LGBTQ+ community face the most violence and persecution. Many young queer individuals are living in fear of not being accepted by their family and local community.

There may be many tasks ahead which need to be completed in order for young people to succeed in our country. The truth of the matter is that the youth of South Africa face many barriers which prevent us from flourishing and achieving our best. Thus, for this Youth month and Youth Day on the 16th, the hope is that concrete plans are put in place that will deal with issues intersectionally and ultimately, take the generation forward.

Written by

Luke Waltham is a BA Law Graduate. He is a BA Honours student and has been an activist for transformation, social justice and human rights. #BTSARMY

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