On Tuesday, June 16, South Africa commemorated Youth Day. Forty-four years since the Soweto uprisings, the day remains a poignant reminder that South’s Africa’s hard-won freedom is etched in blood of young martyrs. We can only pay forward their sacrifices by continuing to expand the frontiers of freedom and opportunity for the young people of South Africa. To honour them, we must work together to build a South Africa that is truly united, non-racial, non-sexist, equal, and prosperous.
South Africa’s youth remains the best hope for our country. They carry the dreams of the nation and are the quintessential agents of change. Our government sees the youth demographic not as a weight or burden, but as a resource, as an asset, and a dividend for socio-economic development. To realise the full potential of our youth, the government of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) is unrelenting in mainstreaming youth development and empowerment. We are ensuring that departments have set aside 35% of their budgets to procure from youth, women, and people with disability.
We believe that through a small, medium-sized and microenterprise (SMME) revolution, we will be able to fuel economic growth and create employment. The province of KZN is the first to introduce a Youth Empowerment Fund which provides dedicated funding to SMMEs and cooperatives owned by the youth. In October 2019, we provided just over R71-million to 55 youth-owned businesses. When we launched the Youth Fund, Absa also supported this initiative by providing R500-million in a soft-loans programme towards SMMEs working with government. To date, 51 SMMEs have been supported to the value of R158-million, and 65% of recipients are African female and 60% are youth. KZN has again set aside R50-million for the 2020/21 financial year to support youth-owned enterprises.
We have also created instruments for microfinance in every district of KZN to support small businesses and boost job creation. Through the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA), government has transferred R15.9-million to Ithala to ensure the support of SMMEs and cooperatives in the cleaning detergents sector. Ithala also disbursed R226-million in business loans which resulted in the creation of 546 new businesses and 3 284 jobs during the 2019/20 financial year. Through the Enterprise Development Fund and Ithala Development Finance, R274-million was spent to support SMMEs and co-ops. This translated to 574 new businesses and a total of 3 683 jobs. Of these, 153 are owned by women and 274 are youth-owned enterprises.
We call on the youth to get involved in agriculture and agro-processing to realise the full potential of this strategic sector. We have a vision of making agriculture a game changer and a catalyst for radical economic transformation. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is rolling out a Youth Strategy, and all empowerment initiatives targeting the youth are housed under the Department’s Inkunzi Isematholeni Programme.
The provincial Department of Transport is also empowering youth-owned entities for materials sourcing for construction in line with its iGula programme. Under its National Youth Service, 850 young people will be trained on accredited modules in the 2020/21 financial year and 50 learners will be trained on bricklaying apprenticeship through the Zibambele programme. The department is also partnering with the NYDA to train 6 000 Zibambele beneficiaries on business management and entrepreneurial skills. In this regard, we fully support government’s decision that entrepreneurship must be taught in our schools.
EDTEA continues to strengthen the Radical Agrarian Socio-Economic Transformation Programme where emerging farmers are supplying hospitals and supermarkets like Boxer and Cambridge. Working with national government, we are determined to revitalise the sugar industry. Government has already published the SA Biofuels Regulatory Framework which will unlock more opportunities in biofuels and bio-electricity production. We also appeal to the youth to take advantage of the new opportunities that are presented by the cultivation and processing of cannabis for local and export markets. Through the Moses Kotane Institute of Technology, KZN has a fully-fledged Cannabis Unit.
KZN has put together a strong business case for the establishment of a Clothing and Textile Special Economic Zone (SEZ) ranging from Newcastle to Richards Bay. This initiative will support local designers and expand the manufacturing sector, beneficiation, and localization. We will continue to support local film productions through the KZN Film Fund. Our economic recovery strategy is anchored on promoting localisation, producing for domestic consumption and the export markets. We are promoting the Buy South Africa and Buy KZN Campaign, and we urge our young people to be brand ambassadors of goods and services produced in our province.
One of the lessons that we take from the Covid-19 pandemic is the need to accelerate the deployment of internet connectivity in every corner of the province to effectively deliver e-government, e-health, and e-learning. As government, we will continue to fight for the reduction of data costs to ensure that none of our citizens is left behind in the digital economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
As part of revitalization of the township economy, EDTEA will be assisting emerging entrepreneurs that are involved in the automotive industry. The plan is to have township-based young artisans and mechanics work in automotive repair centres. There is consensus as well that government departments in KZN must use these centres for repair of government fleet.
Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic which the World Health Organisation regards as public enemy number one, South Africa commemorated Youth Day 2020 under the theme, “Youth Power: Growing South Africa Together in a Period of Covid-19.” We are certain that the current generation of youth will draw inspiration and fortitude from the discipline, determination, and patriotism of the class of ‘76 to play a meaningful role in overcoming this deadly virus.
With the easing of the lockdown regulations, we urge the youth to be more vigilant and to transform their behaviour. We must continue to observe social distancing even more stringently and wear face masks whenever we leave home. Our collective fate literally rests in our own hands. Let us wash our hands regularly with soap and water and avoid crowded spaces.
Because of the bravery and courage of the Class of ‘76, today the doors of learning and culture are open for the children of the poor and working class at institutions of higher learning. Because of their sacrifices, today the children of the poor access no fee-paying schools, receive a nutritious meal, and are assisted with learner transport. We have confidence that today’s youth will protect and advance the gains of our democracy. They will define a new way of living post COVID-19. For our part, we ask them to remain disciplined, vigilant, and to pursue lifelong learning. They must continue to imagine the world anew, apply their innovation and technology know-how in finding solutions to our country’s most pressing challenges. Government stands ready to support the youth to ensure that the next decade becomes a decade of triumph for the South African youth.
This Piece is Written by KwaZulu-Natal Premier, Sihle Zikalala in his own capacity