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Reflecting on Youth Month and the Need for Holistic Solutions


Mahlatse Tolamo | July 3, 2024

Photo: Sam Nzima poses in 2011 with his photo of Hector Pieterson, a 12-year-old schoolboy shot by police during the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa. (Denis Farrell/AP). Image source: South African History Online


The annual celebration of Youth Day commemorates the bravery of the Soweto Uprising students on the 16th of June 1976, who fought for educational equality and systemic oppressions which were perpetuated by the South African government’s apartheid policies. It also recognises the ongoing challenges faced by young South Africans, such as unemployment and access to education, while promoting youth development and empowerment through various initiatives.


This year, Youth Month was celebrated under the theme ‘Actively Advancing Socioeconomic Gains of our Democracy” and is aimed at promoting sports for the development of the youth and nation. One can just wonder why the government is actively promoting sports and setting up recreational facilities given the rising youth unemployment rate. It’s one thing to promote sports and another thing to ensure that the right facilities are in place for the youth to actively engage in these activities.


Given that it has been 30 years into the country’s democracy and 48 years since the Soweto uprising, one would think that we would not be sitting on a shocking 45,5% youth unemployment rate and with communities lacking recreational facilities. The Youth Month theme highlighting sports for development is commendable. However, for this to be effective, the government needs to actively invest in building recreational facilities within townships.  Without these facilities, promoting sports participation becomes an empty promise.  Furthermore, township schools, often struggling with limited resources and hardly priorities sports programmes. I am however happy that the theme focused on a different societal issue as this highlights the need for a more holistic approach to address the multifaceted problems young South Africans face


An article written by Caner Özge and Velittin Balcı highlighted that sports and fitness centres, community halls, parks, libraries, cultural centres and other similar facilities can keep young people out of harm’s way and reduce crime. Furthermore, studies have shown links between idle youths and troubled social behavior which includes drug abuse and violence. When you look at a number of townships across the country, these facilities are not available, and they continue to have large numbers of unengaged and uninvolved youths who are not in employment, education or training.


When I first saw the theme, I didn’t understand why they mainly focused on promoting sports when there are so many issues facing the youth. However, when you delve deeper into the importance of recreational facilities and sports, you then understand the complexities that face township communities which leaves young people with few outlets from daily struggles.


Historically, townships were not designed for human development. Rather, they were glorified Glorified labour reserves for apartheid era businesses. For example, schools were under-resourced as they were not really meant to cultivate human intellectual potential and there were little to no sports grounds, libraries and clinics. This is particularly concerning when we see new developments prioritise shopping centres over libraries or playgrounds.


In addition to this, Apartheid created a stifling environment for black entrepreneurs in townships.  Government policies restricted access to capital and resources, limited their customer base by enforcing segregation, and confined businesses to resource-poor townships.  Discriminatory laws and regulations stacked the deck against them. Despite these immense challenges, some black South Africans displayed remarkable resilience and innovation, building successful businesses that laid the groundwork for future generations of entrepreneurs.  However, the legacy of Apartheid’s unequal playing field continues to be felt in the South African economy today.

There’s a gap between promoting initiatives like entrepreneurship and digital skills development in townships and having the facilities to make these programmes successful.  Entrepreneurs need workspaces to foster innovation, and young people need libraries to develop digital literacy at a young age.


While challenges exist within the entrepreneurship space, they also present exciting opportunities.  Innovation and deeper collaboration across the ecosystem are key, especially fostering interdepartmental cooperation between government entities like Human Settlements, Social Development, Arts & Culture, and Small Business Development.  This united front can empower township entrepreneurs and promote vibrant sports scenes where entrepreneurs offer solutions tailored to the community’s needs. Libraries can act as guardians of cultural heritage, ensuring its preservation for future generations.  Entrepreneurial ingenuity can bring local talent to the forefront through well-managed festivals, concerts, and exhibitions.  Finally, media and entertainment platforms can become powerful amplifiers, giving township voices and stories the platform they deserve within the wider arts and cultural landscape.  By leveraging their local knowledge and passion, township entrepreneurs can build thriving businesses within a supportive ecosystem, ensuring their unique cultural contributions flourish.


Working together is vital to address the challenges and fulfil the needs of young South Africans. By leveraging technology, building community, partnering with local organizations, and seeking funding, township entrepreneurs can turn their passion for sports into successful businesses.


Mahlatse Tolamo, Stakeholder Relations Manager. 22 On Sloane


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