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Thought Leadership - A reflection on what it means to be young in a tough economy, espousing the values of Nelson Mandela Month - published 11 Jul 2022


A reflection on what it means to be young in a tough economy, espousing the values of Nelson Mandela Month

Leah Moodaley, CDC Communications Officer

What does it mean to be young in a struggling economy? Within the context of the Nelson Mandela Month tagline “action against poverty”, this is an important question to ask. We are, after all, the future.

How would I describe the thousands of young South Africans just like me?

Aspirant but discouraged? Determined but demotivated? Bright but lacking the necessary resources to act?

These are the dichotomies that define us if we allow them to. Our current circumstances demand more from us than before. Our youth is about having strength of character rather than having a memorable time.

We juggle a steady stream of curated glamour and success from influential media platforms, with the realities and pressures of a declining economy and saturated job market. We have our own dreams for the future intertwined with the expectations of those who raised us. We grapple with an unrelenting sense of urgency to come up with the next big idea or to somehow strike gold. We are fuelled by the fear of being left behind and challenge ourselves to be better than our peers.

We are asked to be entrepreneurial. We are asked to be educated. We are asked to be experienced. For those of us who grab the baton of entrepreneurship, we put our noses to the grindstone and work hard to see returns and garner support. However, we have digital marketing finesse on our side to help. For those of us who are well-educated, we take pride in our academic inclinations and hope that this will count in favour of our lack of experience. For those of us who entered the job market early (whether by choice or circumstance) and have our experience to offer, we harden our palms to climb the corporate ladders where age and professional loyalties appear to be trump cards.

While there have been indications of upward economic growth since the beginning of the year, our national unemployment rate still stands at 34,5 percent. As reported in the Quarterly Labour Force Survey by Statistics South Africa for the first quarter of 2022, the unemployment rate was 63,9 percent for ages 15-24 and 42,1 percent for ages 25-34. A large portion of those who are out of the labour force have simply lost hope of finding a job in their preferred location or that suits their skill set.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to be employed, we face the challenge of saving and building a portfolio of assets while trying to maintain our day-to-day independence, and in many instances, take care of our parents and/or younger siblings. Hundreds of thousands of job losses were recorded for the first quarter of 2022 alone (QLFS Q1:2022). Milestones like home ownership seem unimaginable, and at times we seem like an overly-optimistic generation that has failed to launch.

The global theme for Mandela Day 2022 is “Do what you can, with what you have, wherever you are” – a humble request born from COVID-19 and the inequality left in its wake. Being young in this economy means taking opportunities when they come – lucrative or not – and doing the work we don’t want to do, to get to where we need to be. It means picking and choosing. It means resisting the temptation to earn a quick buck and being forthright instead. It means throwing caution to the wind and taking risks with full acceptance of the consequences.

It requires the removal of all comparisons and definitive buckling down, while of course, not forgetting to follow our dreams.

I was fortunate enough to secure permanent employment in my field of choice: Communications. I am seven years and two permanent positions into my corporate career, and I have experienced and witnessed the value of giving young people professional opportunities. Employers can tap into that energetic sense of urgency to “make it” by entrusting young people with responsibility.

Being young in a tough economic situation necessitates a lot of growing up. And so, we are drawn into the dichotomy of what it means to be young in a struggling economy.

At Coega Development Corporation (CDC), great emphasis is placed on the development of young talent under the guidance of seasoned mentors. Graduates can refine their learned skillset through practical workplace experience with remuneration. Yes, work experience, credible references, and an income! The CDC Flagship Internship Programme enrolled a total of 86 interns in the 2021/22 financial year and in addition, offers short courses to improve employability. I am privileged enough to work alongside three of our CDC interns and look forward to sharing everything I know with them, because this is the measure of support that young people need and deserve in a struggling economy.

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