#Budget2024: Why South Africa can't afford to stop the presidential employment stimulus - Youth Capital
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#Budget2024: Why South Africa can’t afford to stop the presidential employment stimulus

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The following article was published on City Press on 21 February 2024.

Imagine having to choose between buying food for your child and spending money on finding a job. Job hunting is costly, especially when you’re unemployed and money is tight, as the latest research confirms that job-seeking can cost up to R1 400 per month

Transport is the biggest expense. We live in a country where one in five people have limited access to food. And they can’t afford to look for jobs.

At the same time, we know that four in ten young people between the ages of 15 and 34 are not in education, employment or training.

This is the difficult context in which Minister Enoch Godongwana will deliver his annual budget on Wednesday. South Africa is stuck in a low-growth trap, the available jobs are too far from where many unemployed people live and there are too few to meet demand.

But existing short-term work opportunities such as those created by the social employment fund and the presidential employment stimulus, in general, are putting money directly in people’s pockets, enabling them to spend in local economies.

These programmes are giving young people their much-needed first work experience. Unlike trickle-down economics, these opportunities provide a trickle up strategy that is truly redistributive.

But, to create a sustainable programme, Godongwana must ensure there is adequate funding for both programmes for another five years. 

An opportunity to work and learn new skills

The employment fund leverages existing civil society infrastructure to maximise value for communities.

Since its inception in 2020, the fund has worked with over 1 000 community-based organisations, providing on-the-job training and stipends, paid at the national minimum wage rate to over 100 000 participants, the majority of whom are young people.

One of the programme’s beneficiaries is a young woman named Francina Muhlanga, who began working with Organisation Hands On, a strategic partner of development facilitation agency Seriti Institute, as a nutrition ambassador.

As part of the programme, which runs for four hours a day, five days a week, she learnt new soft skills, such as communication and team management, and agricultural skills, such as growing her own vegetables and understanding different soil types. 

Trickle up strategy 

Short-term work opportunities like these can boost the national economy, beginning with local economies in the very communities in which these programmes operate.

Young people didn’t have to spend money on transport to get to work, as most opportunities are in communities where the participants live.

READ: Songezo Zibi | Hunger stalks the land while politicians focus on pointless slogans

For example, Muhlanga’s monthly stipend contributed to her household income and paid her son’s school fees. Using her new skills and the social networks she built during her time as a nutrition ambassador, she started her own homestead garden growing cabbage, spinach and beetroot.

She could maintain a nutritious diet and had the opportunity to make extra money by selling the produce to her neighbours. Muhlanga’s story is not isolated.

Seriti Institute crunched the numbers: 6 509 vegetable units were harvested in December last year, providing sustenance to 8 662 people, particularly in vulnerable households.

This boosted their resilience to food insecurity. This is not anecdotal: new research shows that such short-term work opportunities go a long way towards increasing consumer purchasing power.

The economic impact lasts well after the programmes have ended.

Make good programmes sustainable 

Leveraging public employment to reduce youth unemployment aligns with our government’s vision.

To date, the employment stimulus has shown us the potential of public employment programmes to simultaneously tackle poverty, boost community development and create work opportunities. We’ve seen this happening in 14 sectors countrywide in schools, early childhood development centres and areas categorised as economic deserts. 

While existing solutions such as the employment stimulus can be launch pads for innovation, it’s crucial to focus on outcomes to secure the long-term sustainability of these programmes and improve the livelihoods of its participants.

South Africa has the tools, programmes and civil society infrastructure that can empower young people to take charge of their futures. But, for this to happen, public employment must be sufficiently funded in the medium term, allowing those who deliver the programme to focus their energies on impact and measurable outcomes, instead of the uncertainties of the programmes’ future. 

Pardesi is the CEO of the Seriti Institute, a development facilitation agency and a strategic partner of the Social Employment Fund. Duncan-Williams is the project leader at Youth Capital, a campaign advocating youth-centred and evidence-based solutions to youth unemployment.

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