This is a serious question. Who cares about our children and, in particular, our black children?
If you don’t care, you should. Clem Sunter, that respected and authoritative futurist and scenario strategist, reported some years ago some frightening figures. He stated, “SA’s youth (is) a time bomb.” It amazes one that the government does not care or doesn’t know how to cope with the time bomb reality. Apart from words, nothing much has changed since Sunter’s warning. And young people have not woken up to their potential political power. They will, soon.
He produced census figures showing that in the age groups from 0 to 24, the following are the numbers of our youth: Black – 22,5 million; Coloured – 2.1 million; Asian – 501,000 and White – 1.4 million.
Sunter projected current birth rates, estimating by 2030 in the age group 0-24 there will be 91 Blacks, 7 Coloureds, 1 Asian and 1 White for every 100 young people. He commented wryly that those wanting to drive White people into the sea should not bother, since they would soon be 1% of the population.
In the UK the youth unemployment rate is 12.9%. In our country, up to 70% of young people are unemployed and for many, there is no hope they will ever find work; their schooling and their skills are so poor that they are not equipped to function in a modern economy.
Our youth, particularly our poor black youth, bore the brunt of the Covid-pandemic. Inevitably, this will impact their future; too many of them have lost huge amounts of schooling with the closure of schools and no virtual or homeschooling in poorer areas. When are they to catch up?
Angie Motshekga has a terrible job as minister of Basic Education, but when will she insist that schools implement a simple catch-up plan, to be designed by her department? What about weekend classes and vacation schools and gap-bridging programmes? For starters, it would be a simple matter to shorten school holidays by a week or two each term and use this as sorely needed teaching time. Children, especially older ones, do not need many weeks of holiday a few times a year. I hope teachers who are members of SADTU would willingly sacrifice their vacation if this is in the interests of their learners. Many teachers, not all, have disappointed us in the past but they are surely entitled to the benefit of the doubt.
The community as well as the politicians and the teachers need to wake up to the challenge of better equipping our youth for the future. I spoke to a Soweto mother a few days ago. Her son had a year of 3-day schooling when the schools were not closed entirely. The son’s school did not operate for a few days last week because crowds near the school were burning tyres and protesting about the electricity supply, terminated by ESKOM in July, largely but not solely because of theft of electricity, non-payment by many and illegal connections. The protestors did not think of moving their demonstration away from the schools to ensure that even more precious teaching time was not lost.
Until this country takes seriously the challenge of improving our children’s education and rejecting the failed economic policies of the ANC causing unemployment, we cannot avert the explosion of the time bomb and create the opportunity to catapult SA into a higher, more successful league.
Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His website is douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com
This article first appeared in The Star newspaper.