The ANC has reached a cul-de-sac.It does not know what to do with the economy in order to create employment forthe youth. The mooted idea of the job seekers grant is an epitome of this.
The proposal for a job seekersgrant is ill-conceived and bizarre. It is a complete misdiagnosis of what theroot causes of youth unemployment are. Thus, the job seekers grant is to youthunemployment what Panado is to a sickly patient: it only eases the pain, but doesnot cure the disease.
While it is true that job seekersgrants could boost the confidence of discouraged work seekers, in South Africathe problem of youth unemployment is deep-seated. The absence of jobopportunities is the reason why most people are getting discouraged to look forwork.
It is therefore simplistic of theANC to think that the youth are unemployed because they have no transport moneyto look for jobs or that their CV’s are poorly prepared.
There are, in the main, four majorobstacles that stand between youth and employment. The first is that theeconomy is failing to create jobs en masse. What is required is an interventionin the economy to stimulate growth and enable companies to create jobopportunities.
Secondly, too many youths continueto drop out of the education system without a qualification. Approximately 1million kids who enter the schooling system do not make it to matric. 52 percent of the 139 000 students who enrolled for first degree in highereducation in 2002 dropped out before they completed their studies.
These are the youth who swell theranks of the ever-bloating reservoir of the unemployable. How will the job seekersgrant make the 1 million youths who drop out of school without a seniorcertificate every twelve years become employable?
Thirdly, many of our youth havelittle or no skills to sell. They have no work experience to give employersconfidence that they can do the job.
Fourthly, those who have thequalifications are not trained in the fields of studies that are in higherdemand in the economy. Earlier this year, Adcorp reported that 800 000jobs in the private sector remain vacant while 600 000 graduates languishin joblessness.
All these four factors haveconspired to frustrate the hopes of many of our youth. It is shocking that the ANCToday seem oblivious of these issues.
Surprisingly, several documents producedby the same ANC-led government already identified all these challenges and proposedsubstantive solutions. For example, in 2006 the Accelerated and Shared GrowthInitiative of South Africa (ASGISA) identified the need urgently to remove the“binding constraints” to unlock growth and improve the productive capacity ofthe economy. These constraints included skills shortage and poor education.
The JointInitiative on Priority Skills acquisition (JIPSA) was also introduced “to dealwith a very particular economic problem − the supply of skills in relation tothe economy and the labour market and the concomitant role of education andtraining.”
“Towards a fifteen-year review”in 2007 also observed that “Those who drop out of school before completingtheir senior secondary education pose the most problem. They are unable toparticipate in the economy.”
Most recently, Trevor Manuel’s Diagnosticoverview observed that more than 86 per cent of unemployed youth do not havefurther or tertiary education, while two-thirds have never worked. It’s notclear how the job seekers grant will be of assistance to these hapless youths?
The drafters of the 2007 Towardsa fifteen-year review went even further and counselled that “increasingemployment and opening economic opportunities are critical to promoting independencefrom social grants and to sustained economic growth”.
What, then, informs the ANC’sintentions to accelerate dependence on social grants?
Three reasons could explain this.First, is that those entrusted with the responsibility to imagine and draftpolicy in the ANC are either ignorant, or are men and women of hubris.
No one in the ANC Today,including its head of policy, Mr Jeff Radebe, seems to know what the jobseekers grant is about, how it will rescue the youth from the crunching jaws ofunemployment or how it will be implemented.
Pressed hard to explain thisproposal during the ANC policy conference in June, the head of policy in theANC was not convincing. The best he could say was, “the job seekers grant isnot going to substitute the youth wage subsidy”.
Is it fair, therefore, to expect JacobZuma or Gwede Mantashe to eloquently and intelligently explain this policy initiativewhen the head of policy appears oblivious of these matters?
Under Zuma, the ANC committed agrievous error when it allowed the haste to appear different from theirpredecessors to obscure them from seeing anything good done by the latter. Itis this hubris that has led to the neglect of initiatives such as ASGISA, whichthe DA has now so cleverly revised and adapted.
It is the same hubris that hasshoved eggheads like Pallo Jordan to the periphery while mediocrity takescharge. We all know that the drafters of the so-called “Second Transition” arenot renowned for their cerebral prowess. Some are best suited for fashion magazinesor pop idols.
The second reason the ANC prefersto dish out a pittance instead of addressing the real challenges in the economyis simple: the ANC does not know what to do.
That it continues to vacillatebetween empty rhetoric of “giant leap”, “dramatic shift” and populist welfarismsuch as the job seekers grant, is an indication that the ANC has stopped toimagine, to theorise and strategize about what should be done.
Lastly, the grant could buy theANC time and perhaps some votes in 2014. It may, in the eyes of unsuspectingyouths, appear to be doing something about their conditions.
However, when the excitement ofreceiving a pittance every month has waned, the reality that this Band-Aid cannot uplift them from povertywill strike. Then, they may abhor the ANC for its failure to fulfil its promiseof a better life for all.
Worse still, the ANC is not makingefforts to find a long-term solution to the problem of youth unemployment –education. Instead, the ANC is messing up the public education system. It is,as Ngugi wa Thiong’O would say, “maiming” the future of our youths.
Finally, like a sickly patient,the choice for society is slowly becoming clearer: continue to die in the handsof a bogus Doctor or try save your life at another Doctor. The question is whetherthe other Doctor can be trusted?
Stuck at the a cul-de-sac, notknowing what to do with youth unemployment, the ANC should either reverse backwhere it was, when intellect prevailed over mediocrity, or continue writing itsown epitaph.