Youth Moving SA Forward


While unemployment among young people has remained stubbornly high following the 2008 recession, the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) is beginning to see the positive impact of its varied interventions to ride out this socio-economic storm.

As South Africa commemorates Youth Month this June, NYDA chairperson Yershen Pillay says the youth agency, formed in 2009 after the merger between the National Youth Commission and the Umsobomvu Youth Fund, has helped millions of young people access some form of product – from education and training to mentorship and business finance support.

In an interview with SANews at the University of Witswatersrand (Wits), Pillay said the NYDA was trying its best to help young people – who constitute 40% of South Africa’s population of almost 52.98-million – get a decent livelihood.

According to Stats SA, unemployment hit 25.2% in the first quarter of 2014.

Similar to many developing countries, South Africa has a large population of people between the ages of 14 and 35, representing 42% of the total population in this country.

Of this 42%, the majority is unemployed or out of school.

Pillay said after the first pebble was thrown into the water when NYDA was established five years ago, the first ripples have reached the shore.

“What people don’t know is that we have helped six million young people in the last five years with some form of product, service or enrolling them on a programme.

“And that ranges from loans to grants to vouchers to career guidance services, programmes for out of school youth to scholarships, bursaries, mentorship services. So it has really been five years of significant progress and great strides relative to other countries,” he said.

Pillay spoke to PSM shortly after the NYDA hosted a World Book Day event at Wits main campus.

The interview happened on the 2nd floor of the main library shortly after lunch time. On the lawns in front of the library, small groups of students – a part of the NYDA’s target market – were scattered under the sun, while most of them, clad in trendy clothing labels with assorted hairstyles, roved around with their backpacks going about their business.

Despite government’s efforts to increase the intake of varsity graduates in various departments through internships and apprenticeships, it cannot fight unemployment alone and most of these students could soon find themselves joining the long queue of job seeking in the near future.

Pillay said while the South African employment picture remained murky, it was not all gloom and doom as the assistance of the six million or so young people had gone a long way in denting poverty, unemployment and inequality.

He said the country had done well compared to others that had much greater financial muscle.

“I think we have done fairly well, especially when you compare our progress as a nation compared to the progress of other countries.

“For example, if you take the French with their so-called advanced democracy, they have an annual target of 70 000 young people that they need to meet on their National Youth Service programme and they have a budget of €30 million (about R420 million), which is more than the budget of the NYDA.

“Annually, we meet a target of about 138 000 young people on our National Youth Service programme with a far smaller budget.

“Small examples like that paint a picture of fairly good success,” he said.

NYDA’s rocky start, recovery

Shortly after the NYDA was formed, efforts to bolster youth development were overshadowed by media reports of its hosting of the World Youth and Student Festival in 2010, where, media claimed, youth delegates played kissing games instead of attending scheduled sessions.

The agency also had issues relating to its supply chain management, with the Auditor-General emphasising the need to fix irregularities relating to their supply chain management processes.

The reports that followed the festival remained a concern for government, and the NYDA board at the time tried to steer the ship from the storm.

Despite these reports, the NYDA continued with its work and exceeded most of its annual targets related to education, skills training and enterprise finance. This saw the NYDA being given unqualified audit opinions since its inception in 2009 till to date.

While a clean audit is what all government departments aim to achieve annually, an unqualified audit opinionis essentially a good opinion as the financial statements may be regarded as fairly reflecting the financial status of the department or entity.

Inside NYDA’s meetings with the Presidency

Despite obtaining four consecutive unqualified audits – and exceeding its annual performance targets – the Cabinet remained concerned on how the NYDA brand was perceived negatively in the public space since its inception.

After the term of the agency’s first board expired in 2012, a Parliamentary process was initiated to appoint a new board, which led to the appointment of the new board in March 2013.

From that board, Pillay was appointed as chairperson and in a media briefing, Obed Bapela, the Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Monitoring, Performance and Evaluation, introduced him to the country.

In the briefing, the Deputy Minister said while the NYDA was doing well with its internal controls and with youth work, what the agency needed to do was clean up its public image in order to restore its public confidence.

The Deputy Minister has held a series of meetings with Pillay and his colleagues since that briefing in April 2013.

Ever since the new board took over, the NYDA has since shifted its core business away from enterprise finance towards education and skills development.

The shift towards education and skills development is informed by the numerous studies indicating that most young people in the country actually derive their income from salaries and remittances.

Some of its intervention programmes related to education includes the National Senior Certificate 2nd Chance Project, which gave young people who failed matric a chance to enrol and complete Grade 12.

In 2013, the project successfully registered 3168 young people to sit and re-write their matric examination between November and December 2013 in Gauteng, Western Cape and North West provinces.

The project has seen a gradual improvement since its launch in 2011. The 2013 class achieved a 77% pass rate, an improvement from 73% in 2012 and 47% in 2011.

This year, President Jacob Zuma launched the R20-million Solomon Mahlangu Scholarship Fund for deserving matriculants who mainly come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

According to Pillay, the agency has received nothing but positive feedback from The Presidency over the past couple of months.

“In fact, Deputy Minister Obed Bapela said to me after one of our meetings that we really have done well…

“If there is criticism, it is really constructive criticism which is what we want. So the feedback from The Presidency is that we are doing well, we have re-positioned the NYDA from where it was, which was unfortunately that NYDA of festivals and parties and now one of grants and scholarships, which is what people want to hear – an NYDA that works for them,” he said.

He said that the Presidency has been so impressed by with the progress that the NYDA has made, that the highest office in the land has even encouraged departments to work with the youth agency.

“You are hearing more from the Presidency asking other departments, asking business, asking labour: ‘are you working with the NYDA? And if not, why not? Because you should be working with them.”

What gives Pillay headaches?

While the NYDA is making strides in youth development – backed up by encouraging audit outcomes since 2009 – Pillay says the one thing that still gives him headaches is a culture of self-entitlement amongst young people, those who expect that only government should do something to ensure that there is enough jobs to go by.

“The headache for me is the culture of entitlement which is really starting to erode what more progress we can make especially as young people in the country.

“So we need to displace that culture of entitlement of sitting at home, complaining and go back to our historical roots of actually organising ourselves, finding solutions for ourselves and going to government for support,” he said.

He said young people should instead, stop complaining, roll up their proverbial sleeves and replace entitlement it with a culture of service, responsibility and of leadership, for the better of the country.

He said, however, that there were moments that have brought a better taste to his mouth, and ones that gave him more of a reason to wake up.

“Just the other day, and Minister [of Health] Aaron Motsoaledi will not like the story because he wants us to maintain healthy lifestyles, I decided to get a McDonald’s [breakfast].

“The young person who was serving me saw my NYDA t-shirt and asked ‘oh so you are from NYDA’.

“I then said, yes, and asked him if she knew what NYDA does.”

Pillay said the young man then told him he was a student and knew NYDA because it had gone to his school and offered him and his fellow learners career guidance.

When he asked the young man if he was impressed with the progress the NYDA had made, “He said yes, at least you guys are sticking to your promises now.

“For me that is more powerful than the President acknowledging NYDA or even the media acknowledging NYDA because these are the people we serve,” he said.

Youth Day celebrations head for Kimberley

This year’s Youth Day official commemorations will be held in Kimberley under the theme “Youth moving South Africa forward”.

Throughout the month of June, the NYDA has numerous activities lined-up. This includes the launch of the National Youth Build programme, where young people from the Jan Kemp Dorp in the Northern Cape will hand over 76 houses that they have built to youth headed households. The NYDA has also donated solar-powered geysers as part of its efforts to promote the green economy.

In the same province, NYDA will launch the a township hub to allow entrepreneurs trading in a variety of skills to have facilities in a municipal property where they can polish their skills.

The NYDA will also use the month of June to invite ordinary South Africans to submit their applications in order to be considered for 10 vacancies in a soon to be established Youth Advisory Council, an apolitical body that will sit four times a year to advise the youth agency board on matters affecting young people.

Youth Month events are organised to commemorate the anniversary of the death of hundreds of high school students who lost their lives when they came under fire on June 16, 1976, after they took to the streets in a peaceful protest against the mandatory use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction in black secondary schools. –