Breaking the chain of poverty

As Youth Month comes to an end, we look at how best to break the cycle of poverty and create employment opportunities for future generations

During Youth Month we all turned our attention to issues affecting youth in South Africa. It is with keen fascination that I reflected on my own time as a youngster and compared it to today’s challenges.

Like many others, I’m worried about the state of our schools, the unemployment rate and safety issues affecting youth in our communities, but there is one particular concern I wish to highlight.

The United Nations (UN) defines “youth” as people between the ages of 15 and 24. The South African National Youth Commission Act, however, uses the term to refer to people aged 14 to 35, which amounts to a very large portion of the country’s population.

Based on the latest UN estimates, the entire population of South Africa is 58 million people, of which the youth component makes up roughly 20 percent. According to online platform Trading Economics, the youth unemployment rate in South Africa increased to 55,2 percent in the first quarter of 2019.

With this information in mind, the future looks bleak. Far too many young people don’t have earning potential. 

Our youth has to be a priority. It is said that one of the countermeasures in the fight against unemployment is a growing economy, but South Africa is failing at this: Trading Economics recently reported that the economy showed no growth in the first quarter of this year.

So what can be done to improve the current outlook? There are too many people trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty. I feel that is exactly where the attention should be focused: the eradication of poverty.

The South African Children’s Gauge, an annual publication of the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town, did a study on youth in 2015, which is still relevant today. It reported that poverty levels among youth remain strikingly similar to those of their parents, suggesting that post-apartheid policies have not yet levelled the playing field.

The programmes that were implemented need to be assessed and their impacts measured and, if necessary, changes need to be made. Our youth has to be included and represented fairly in all spheres of society. Stigmas need to be broken down and barriers removed to make it easier for everyone to participate and enjoy freedom.

It will be interesting to see how the new government departments tackle their term, and as how civil society and business find ways to work together to address the issues affecting our youth – because it will ultimately affect all of us.

Continued migration to city centres in search of employment and better opportunities will cause havoc. Government must improve and innovate in sectors of primary health, early childhood development and basic education to encourage the development of youth.

The high dropout rates, unemployment and poor living conditions compromise the well-being of the current generation of young people. Left unchecked, these trends will drive the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

A mixture of promising initiatives in research, policy and practice should help strengthen systems and support youth employment, yet these efforts tend to be fragmented. A coordinated effort is required to develop more comprehensive approaches to youth challenges, especially unemployment.


Raven Benny is the chairperson of QASA. He has been a C5, 6 and 7 quadriplegic since 2000. He is married with five children, is mad about wheelchair rugby and represented South Africa in 2003 and 2005. He also plays for Maties. email:

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