Marginalisation Recreated? (Part II)Part Two of a study of South African youth, conducted by senior S&T partner, David Everatt. Part three to follow in the next edition of Phatlalatsa.
Then - and now
The RDP set the tone for government’s approach to youth development in the post-1994 period. Government departments were sectorally organised. The needs of young people were to be met within these sectors, primarily education, health and welfare. ‘Youth’ was a target group for employment on development programmes. The only youth-specific initiative was the creation of a Youth Commission to advise government, and later a Youth Council for civil society structures working with youth.
Integrated youth development had disappeared from government’s agenda. So had any notion of targeted, multifaceted provision for those making the transition from adolescent to adult. The RDP, the 1996 Constitution and other key policy documents projected a simple, linear life-course for South Africans. It moved from childhood and school, through adolescence and further education or skills training, into adulthood and the world of work, living by the rules and values adopted by the Constitutional Assembly. Youth either made it or failed.
The downward spiral of youth in South Africa 1993-2000
Transforming South Africa into a democratic state with a vibrant economy has proved enormously challenging; through the 1990s, young and old both faced rising unemployment, increased crime, on-going poverty and deepening inequality. Women of all ages have been victims of rape. People of all ages have HIV+ family members. However, it is clear that youth continue to face greater obstacles than their older counterparts. Unemployment is widespread, but highest among youth; HIV is rampant, but youth are most at risk. Many post-apartheid youth have been unable to follow the normative life-course set out for and expected of them. Data suggest that in many respects youth are worse-off now than in the early 1990s.
If we compare data from two youth baseline surveys (1993 and 2000), we find a rate of youth unemployment at 52% in 1993; by 2000, this had risen to 62%. Where 57% of African youth available for work were unemployed in 1993, 70% were unemployed in 2000. The 2000 survey also found that a fifth (22%) of unemployed respondents had been without work for more than five years. In 1993, 5% of African respondents had a post-school qualification; this had risen to just 6% in 2000.
Perhaps expectations of post-apartheid South Africa were unrealistic. In 1993, only one in ten (9%) respondents regarded micro-enterprise as their preferred means of employment; the vast majority wanted to work for a large company. Attitudes have changed, presumably because of the sluggish South African economy and jobless growth. In the 2000 survey, 78% of respondents regarded self-employment as a good route to make money; a third (33%) had tried to set up their own business, and half of them had succeeded.
Gender concerns were and are a key component of youth development, but again the situation seems to have worsened. The 1993 study found that a third (32%) of young women with children had planned their first child; this was true of 30% in 2000 – the remaining 70% had had unplanned pregnancies. The 1993 survey found that four in ten (43%) young mothers had fallen pregnant while at school; this rose dramatically to 54% in the 2000 survey. The 2000 study also found that the first sexual experience of a third (31%) of young women had been involuntary.
In the early 1990s, the majority of young people – including the majority of those in the ‘at risk’ and ‘marginalised’ categories - participated in the activities of a wide range of organisations, and could therefore be reached. Religious organisations were the most popular (38% participated in the activities of their local body), followed by sports clubs (32%). But youth are now far more difficult to reach: over half (54%) belong to no organisation at all, and while church and sport remain popular, participation had halved to just 16% of respondents (for sport and church respectively) in the 2000 youth survey.
Perhaps the most ominous comparison relates to HIV/AIDS. In 1993, 3% of respondents had never heard of HIV or AIDS, and three-quarters (73%) believed themselves not to be at risk of infection. By 2000, a fifth (18%) of respondents knew someone with HIV, and over a quarter (28%) knew someone who had died of AIDS. While a quarter of South Africans are estimated to be HIV+, youth – notably young African women – are those most likely to be infected with the virus.