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Sinazo Alungile Novukela - 16 March 2023

According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey by Statistics SA for the first quarter of 2022, the graduate unemployment rate was relatively low in South Africa compared with those of other educational levels, while youth unemployment continues to be a burden, irrespective of educational attainment, and seemingly a very dangerous threat to democracy. Photographer: Armand Hough. African News Agency (ANA)

The dawn of democracy raised hope for many previously disadvantaged South Africans. It symbolised a chance to rebuild and a new dawn.

It also set a chance to try bandage the wounds that had been bleeding under apartheid. However, the status quo we see today is contrary to what was anticipated. People believed that the doors of opportunity were going to open to alleviate the burden of many households that lived below the poverty line. What we see today are huge statistics of youth unemployment – the biggest threat and challenge. The Quarterly Labour Force Survey by Statistics SA for the first quarter of 2022 showed the graduate unemployment rate was relatively low in South Africa compared with those of other educational levels.

But youth unemployment is still a burden, irrespective of educational attainment, and seemingly a very dangerous threat to democracy. Covid-19 made matters worse, weighing the levels of employment opportunities even further down.

It is hard for the economy to absorb the youth into job opportunities, but government initiatives such as temporary employment opportunities – education assistants at schools and internships to gain work-related experience – put young graduates in good stead in terms of employment opportunities. These opportunities provide hope and are temporary relief, but when such opportunities conclude, the problems persist. “In order to live like a king, you have to work like a slave!”

Due to high inflation, the current food basket price is higher than in the past. Therefore, for many to survive, a “side hustle” is an alternative that will go a long way in bringing in additional income. This will help many households to meet the extra costs that some pay cheque incomes may not cover. We must sell clothes and hair, we must open consultancy businesses and we must wash cars. The “side hustle industry” is widening and becoming more rewarding, especially to the unemployed seeking a way to look after their families. While we take the side hustle notion lightly, imagine how well the country’s economy would grow if more people branched into businesses.

This notion concurs with what the president said in his 2022 State of the Nation Address, that the government does not provide jobs; businesses do.

A side hustle is not limited to selling, but also to providing a service, extending it even beyond the borders. Over the past few years, young South Africans have discovered ways of using the internet to gain lucrative livelihoods. While some look at crypto-currency and foreign investments, others are carving out their niche in teaching online or becoming social media influencers.

Teaching online involves offering tutoring services to learners over the internet, but increasingly, teaching the English language to non-English speakers across the globe at set rates.

With the high rate of unemployed graduates, this teaching option is becoming an alternative route, especially with the basic certification being a degree in any field of study and an understanding of the language at a native level, of which South African citizens are regarded as native speakers. A Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate is an added advantage. There is also an increase of social media content creators over TikTok, YouTube and Instagram who get paid to create content as per the viewers’ ratings.

Teaching English online to non-English speakers across the world is a form of employment that is challenging and rewarding. Some bold movers have taken the risk of moving to non-native English countries to work as English teachers. This is a move they have to take to relieve themselves and families from poverty issues. Evidently, the rate of young unemployed graduates looking for opportunities to branch out and work in those countries is steadily increasing. It is a viable solution, but it also comes at a cost, considering that some have studied for different careers but are forced by circumstances to ditch their passion in the name of earning a living in foreign countries.

Gone are the days when young people would wait on the government to create employment for them. Young people use opportunities to create viable solutions to challenges they face. The struggle faced by the youth in 2023 is different to those the youth faced in the 1970s. These differing scenarios need a different kind of solution. Having detailed the suffering faced by graduates, this raises the question on the advantages of obtaining a qualification as a means of tackling poverty.

Getting employed goes far beyond the borders of South Africa. This may look like a solution to financial struggles; but having something meaningful to do will also address other social issues – suicide-related deaths as a result of depression and anxiety emerging from being unemployed.

Sinazo Alungile Novukela is a graduate from the University of Fort Hare and Rhodes University in Communications and Journalism, respectively. She is an intern in Communications at the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. She writes in her personal capacity.

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’

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