The Politics of the National Youth Development Agency Bill

by Aug 11, 2010All Articles

By Anele Mbi

On 17 and 18 November the Ad Hoc Committee on National Youth Development Agency hosted public hearings at Parliament in Cape Town. There are major concerns regarding the involvement and consultation of young people in establishing this new Agency. This is besides the great scepticism as to whether it is likely to help address the major problems affecting working-class youth. The decision to disband the National Youth Commission and Umsobomvu Youth Fund should be welcomed by many young people and youth activists. The ANC Youth League, though the driving force behind the existence of the youth commission, has recently called for the dissolution of the toothless and wasteful commission.

While the Youth Commission provided fancy policies on youth development, it did not have any resources and powers to implement youth development programmes. The word ‘policy’ thus became synonymous with restrictions and bureaucracy since it had no impact on the lives of youth. Similarly, the Umsobomvu Youth Fund experienced serious shortcomings since 2001 when it was formed. Through the Lembede Investments Holding Company the fund has enriched top ANCYL members in deals with controversial business personalities like Brett Kebble. No one can deny that Lembede Investments Holdings has made financial contributions to the League, and maintained the Porsche-and-patio lifestyle of league members.

While the disbandment of these two institutions should be welcomed, the future of the National Youth Development Agency looks very bleak. The first problem is the lack of sufficient participation. There are only two days of hearings in Cape Town and nothing at provincial and regional levels. Surprisingly, the Committee maintains that the bill has no provincial implications, despite the fact that the country’s constitution establishes the participatory nature of our democracy. As matters stand, the majority of young people are marginalised and demobilised. This is clearly evident from their low turn-out in previous national polls. They are frustrated and disempowered by the same daily realities of poverty, joblessness, HIV/AIDS, crime, second-class education, low wages, retrenchments and ghetto life. The youth know, but not in detail, how parliament works, and speaking to parliament for them is practically impossible. Political organisations such as the Youth League have weight while the rest of the youth feel that parliament and government are too distant.

Another problem with the bill is that the body it establishes, the National Youth Development Agency, has no youth involvement. The bill talks about a board of directors appointed by the President, but nowhere does it talk about involving youth organisations and structures! Like many other institutions this Agency puts youth ‘in their place’ instead of encouraging them and treating them like adults. The youth have heard about these youth institutions – mostly from their parents – but have limited knowledge of what they do. Is it not the role of these institutions to meet the youth instead of the youth continually having to find them? Young people need to be in charge of youth agencies so that these agencies develop a youth mindset. In order to succeed, the National Youth Development Agency would have to have young people, whose youthful energy and language can solve youth problems.

In addition, the new agency lacks implementation powers and lacks the vision of the 1996 National Youth Convention, namely that the YDA would provide a framework to urgently respond to high youth unemployment. Great priority was intended for national youth development initiatives such as the Expanded Public Works Programme. Instead, Section 6 (1) of the Agency Bill reads ‘the Agency must coordinate, monitor and evaluate the implementation of the Integrated Youth Development Strategy for South Africa’. Clearly there is no real change in the new integrated development strategy introduced by the Bill, only a merger of the youth commission and the Youth Fund.

Thirty-nine per cent of South African society is aged between 14 and 35 years, and bears the brunt of the social crisis and disintegration taking place in the poverty stricken townships, villages and farming areas of South Africa.

As a substantial part of South African society, youth must be usefully mobilised even if massive resources are required. Young people and youth organisations will reject or be apathetic to the new National Youth Development Agency if it is clearly not what is needed.

The needs of working-class youth are enormous. Any further delay in improving their living standards will result in further social disintegration. As youth get organised, they will increasingly have to challenge the gross socio-economic inequalities and unequal power relations in this country. Society is failing the youth.

Read more articles from Issue #5&6, December 2008

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