Comprehensive support for youth “a responsibility”

Mandela Initiative newsletter (Issue 2, March 2017)


Youth conversation

“We needs skills, not grants... And access to resources, like access to a car to practise for one’s driver’s licence – that can make such a difference.”

The speaker was a young woman in her early 20s, the place Philippi Village, located in an informal settlement on the outskirts of Cape Town. In the room was an exciting combination of participants: senior government officials from the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) in the Presidency; the National Treasury and the Department of Social Development (DSD); prominent academic experts in youth development, and poverty and inequality; leaders from youth development incubators, social innovators and dialogue facilitators.


The woman was one of a panel of young people who reflected on the biggest challenges that they face, in the first of a series of conversations on what could constitute a ‘package of support’ for youth. The multi-disciplinary event was hosted by the Poverty and Inequality Initiative (PII), University of Cape Town in collaboration with UCT’s Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship; the Economies of Regions Learning Network of the Government Technical Advisory Centre (GTAC), an agency of the National Treasury; the Programme to Support Pro-poor Policy Development (PSPPD) in the DPME; and the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF).

The initiative emerged out of a review of the situation of South Africa’s youth in 2015, which was led by the PII’s Dr Ariane De Lannoy, and which highlighted the fact that creating carefully conceptualised and implemented interventions that target youth would not only assist the current youth cohort, but also provide an opportunity to interrupt the intergenerational transmission of poverty in the country. One of the overarching recommendations that emerged from the review was to explore the possibilities to support young people in a more comprehensive way.

The Philippi conversation rang in a process with key role-players to deliberate collectively what such support for youth would entail. Explains De Lannoy: “We are asking ourselves: in a context of high levels of youth unemployment, insufficient jobs, skills mismatches, low access to quality education and low educational outcomes, low levels of productive social capital … and, seemingly, no immediate possibilities to bring about big changes in many of those structural constraints, what is it that society and government can do to alleviate deprivation among young people, and to enable them to start to create pathways to a better life? Since the 2015 review, and with support from a growing partner base, the PII has invited a range of role-players in academia, policy and practice to join this exercise and to take up responsibility within their specific institutions and domains to contribute to this thinking.”



Interventions that target
youth will benefit the
current youth cohort and
are an opportunity to interrupt
the transmission of
intergenerational poverty

The 2015 review showed that, 21 years into democracy, income poverty and racial, class and gender inequalities continue to limit access to opportunities and chances for growth and prosperity for the majority of South Africa’s youth. As a result, they experience various forms of deprivation, which can drive the intergenerational transmission of poverty and, therefore, also compromise the well-being of the next generation of children.

“The success of young black people is like the draw of a lottery, you have to get lucky, and luck depends on coming across the right connections. It should not be about luck. It should be normal to be successful when you are black”, said Sello Hatang, chief executive officer of the NMF in the keynote address. “We must begin to address the challenges – not only do our youth expect this from us, but we also have a responsibility to change lives that are still to be born”, he concluded.

Identifying what De Lannoy calls the “necessary building blocks of a social protection programme for youth” will require thoughtful consideration. Mastoera Sadan, programme manager of the PSPPD, encouraged participants to be mindful of the implications of policy choices, and the “trade-offs” that occur in such choices. Also, there is no silver bullet, Laura Poswell, executive director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab Africa (J-PAL Africa) explained, as “different things work for different people and we need to think about solutions in relation to beneficiaries’ contexts”.

The youth panellists
mentioned mentorship,
guidance and access
to information
as key to successful
transitions to adulthood

South Africa already has a strong package of social support for children, but this ceases largely when they turn 18. Hence, said Thabani Buthelezi, the head of monitoring and evaluation at the DSD, there is a need for the integration of systems as the child progresses to adulthood. Various participants, however, pointed out that the quality of programme implementation and integration is a challenge, and this includes coordination across government departments. Several speakers also highlighted the value of partnerships which, according to Rob Urquhart, executive knowledge and impact for the Harambee Youth EmploymentAccelerator, can be a key enabler to unlock opportunities and design innovative solutions for youth.

Discourses on youth can affect policy choices and there is a need for advocacy to shift negative or unhelpful discourses, Dr Lauren Graham of the Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg (UJ) told the gathering. One example of a programme that attempts to shift such discourses is the DG Murray Trust’s Bumb’Ingomso, which sees and treats young women not as passive beneficiaries, but as leaders and innovators. “What drives change is a sense of self identity at the core”, said DGMT programmes director, Janet Jobson. Using such positive discourses in programme design can encourage a positive self-image in youth.

The youth panellists also raised this issue of discourses. Often, they said, black people are presented as not smart enough, and the absence of them in key positions means fewer role models for black youth. One panellist – a Raymond Ackerman Academy graduate – lamented that black communities also lack role models because those who rise on the ladder of success often move out of the townships. All the youth panellists spoke about the need for mentorship, guidance and access to information as key to successful transitions to adulthood.

Identifying the necessary building blocks for a youth support package needs a collaborative process, explains De Lannoy, which is the reason for forming a broad coalition with partners who attended the Philippi conversation. Some have committed to explore the questions on appropriate support mechanisms for youth as part of their own work, and to feed their thinking back into the process. UJ's Centre for Social Development in Africa and the DG Murray Trust will join the process as official partners.

The goal, says De Lannoy, is to “see the process culminate in a clear recommendation and, where possible, costing of a package of youth support, followed by advocacy efforts to see the package written into policy, and translated into implementation plans.”


This article was written by Charmaine Smith, communication manager of the Mandela Initiative, with the input and guidance from Ariane De Lannoy and Haajirah Esau.