South Africa's Youth

Reflecting back on the tragedy that just occurred at Columbine High School in Denver Colorado and the generalizations being made about the U. S youth and the crisis that we are in and supposedly are experiencing ,I decided to research the youth crisis in South Africa. There is at present no youth crisis as such. However young people find themselves in the midst of a range of crises that should be addressed urgently by the state and society.

South African youths as a category refers to South Africans between 15 and 30 years of age; they constitute 29,5% of the population, yet there is no comprehensive youth policy in place to attend to their needs. Most young people share common values of society – signs of radicalism and militarism are found in only a minority of youth. Only a small percentage of South Africa’s youth can be considered truly marginalized as the country’s youth as a whole and therefore cannot be called a lost generation. Thirty-seven per cent of South Africa population were below the age of 15 in 1991.

It can be compared with the average of 40% for similar countries in the world, less-developed countries averaging 44% and industrialized countries 23%. The composition of people between 15 and 30 years, comprised 29,5% of South Africa’s population. Figures for racial categories indicate a total of approximately 8,3 million (75%) black, 1,4 m. (12%) white, 1,1 m. (10%) colored and 300 000 (3%) Asian youths in this group. There are many problems for the South African Youth and some of the most challenging problems include family and community instability that leads to a wide range of other social problems for youth.

The black family has been under enormous strain partly because of an education system that is not providing all youth with relevant and quality education. Economic stagnation, together with inadequate education, has resulted in high levels of unemployment and poverty, especially among women and blacks. Demographic factors which continue to impact on the South African population and more specifically the youth. It has been estimated that by 1995, 50% of the age cohort 15 to 19 will live in urban areas.

The extent to which young people from the different racial and cultural groups have become isolated from one another, with the accompanying negative stereotypes, intolerance and racism. A historical survey in the report leaves little doubt that South African youth have over the years been victims of political and socio-cultural crises. They have been subjected to poverty, blatant political manipulation, racial and other divisions that tore the country apart, and a lack of any systematic youth policy to attend to their needs.

As a group, they have for many years been largely ignored by the leaders in control of their destiny. And yet, from the earliest decades of the century, they have attempted to assert themselves by forming youth organizations, by protesting against injustices and by insisting on a decent education and living conditions. Unemployment has been a struggle for the South African Youth. Studies show roughly 42% of youth between the ages of 15 and 30 were unemployed. Young women were particularly disadvantaged.

In the first place, they were less likely to be part of the labor force because large numbers were involved in unpaid domestic work. Secondly, they found it difficult to find employment while being involved in unpaid domestic work. Unemployment affects the unmarried, junior members of households more adversely than the other members. Unemployment is higher in the homelands and in urban areas that comprise squatter and informal settlements close to the major metropolitan area. It is however unclear as to whether unemployment is higher in rural or in urban areas.

At the time, studies indicate 45% of the black, 12% of the white, 40% of the colored and 29% of the Asian youth were unemployed. Family structure and living conditions play an important role. The core family has been seriously affected by social upheavals. Studies indicate that 22% of white, 20% of Asian, 32% of colored and 40 % of black families are currently headed by females. Stability may be found in nuclear, extended, compound or single-parent families. The extended kinship system among blacks and Asians seems to cushion the negative effects of disrupted nuclear family units.

However, many youths are not experiencing stability of an enduring nature, and it emerges from surveys that a lot of young people are receiving only fragmented care. The lack of control, supervision and attention is clearly linked to teenagers’ negative behavior such as alcohol and drug abuse, crime, indiscriminate and unprotected sexual activities, etc. Percentages of teenage pregnancies and births out of wedlock are unacceptably high and AIDS is a frightening reality. Amenities such as electricity, on-tap water, waterborne sewerage, refuse removal, etc, are massively under provided to blacks.

Black youth live in homes of which 46 % do not have running water and 57 % have no electricity. Only 53 % blacks have access to television Over the life span of today’s youth, a third of all Asian families, nearly a quarter of all colored families and nearly a fifth of the black population were forcibly moved by one method or another. Culture and youth organizations play a very important role in the South African youth of today. Studies affirm that one cannot really speak of a single, monolithic youth culture.

In an era of rapid social transformation, stereotyped binary cultural oppositions such as urban/rural, elitist/popular, modern/traditional, are also losing their essential distinctive value. For example, some research point to the possibility that the position that youth occupied in traditional, conservative societies has changed with urbanization and westernization. Recognition of youth’s new, more assertive position has important implications for policy formulation regarding their diversity and their ability not only to react to change and development but actually help guide it.

On the other hand, one study showed that, in spite of lingering signs of racism, 60% of adolescents from all the population groups preferred to identify themselves as South African, which may indicate an increasing sense of shared identity, if not unity. The present processes of societal transformation and democratization make the promotion of a shared culture and values essential; something that should start at school level. Recreation and sports play an important role in young people’s lives: 41,7% of male youth and 18,7% of female youth in South Africa are active members of sports clubs.

Only 16,3% of all youth however belonged to a youth club and only 8,4% belonged to a cultural organization. Facilities for sports, recreational and organizational activities are urgently needed. The crisis in education is well documented. Black education was seriously disrupted during the 1980s. However, black education expanded greatly in an attempt to fulfil its community’s needs, and improved its retention rates at the same time, despite a range of crises that were almost beyond human imagination.

For the majority of black youth in South Africa, access to secondary education is restricted to traditional secondary schools where places are limited, facilities are not up to standard, teachers are not properly qualified and access to subjects such as mathematics, physical science, economics, business economics, accounting, etc, is limited because of a shortage of teachers qualified in these subjects. This causes the whole system to be skewed in favor of such subjects as biology, geography, history and biblical studies, which are the four most popular non-language subjects among black pupils.

Clearly if this trend were to continue, the youth would be even more frustrated with the learning opportunities offered to them. Violence and crime remain endemic in the country and have many destructive effects on youth. Scientific research has shown that black respondents generally rejected violence as a political option, but that about 20% of the white the respondents tended to be militarized in their outlook. In a new democracy like South Africa it is imperative that all its citizens should be politically literate to enable them to participate fully in all facets of a democratic society.

Several studies on political literacy among young South Africans have suggested that this country’s youth are not well informed about politics. There is probably no area of South African life which has more compellingly shown the extent to which apartheid has isolated and insulated different sections of this country’s youth from one another than the area of politics. Youth who grew up in the security and tranquillity of white neighborhoods could fully participate in the parliamentary politics of apartheid South Africa if they wished to do so.

They had very little knowledge or understanding of the harsh realities of township life which confronted the vast majority of South Africa’s youth every day. For most white youths the events, that have taken place in South Africa’s black townships since the mid-seventies, were nothing more than images on the television screen – events they were socialized to interpret as being initiated by radical (communist inspired) people who were attempting to take away their (whites’) privileged position. Indeed, white and black youths under apartheid lived in different worlds.

Studies have shown that the above problems are ameliorated by two sets of findings, namely that the South African youth by no means represent a uniform category of people, and that the majority of South Africa’s young people want to play a constructive role in the creation of a new South Africa. Their rejection of violence, their respect for the cultural and racial diversity in South Africa, the value they place on education and training are all very important to the South African youths of today and in that sense we American youths should learn a thing or two from them.

They have adapted in remarkable and innovative ways to the often painful processes of rapid change, and although they may lack skills and opportunities, they are eager to face the challenge of reconstruction and development. Most of them share their communities’ values and are basically conservative in their views. Only 8% of the sample claimed no religious affiliation – the majority felt that religion played an important role in their daily lives. In conclusion that the tide may be turning for the country’s youth.

Population growth rates are decreasing, income distribution is becoming more equal, the assault on family structures was balanced by the growth of the compound family, a legitimately elected government is in place and a national youth policy has been promised in the RDP. June 16 has been declared a public holiday and renamed Youth Day. Not only youth’s many contributions to the country, but in particular their sacrifices and hardships have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. No, based on studies and research done on the youth in South Africa, there does not appear to be a youth crisis in South Africa at all..


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