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Advocacy campaign Youth Capital cautiously welcomes the Minister of Finance’s decision to extend the Presidential Employment Stimulus by one year, announced during the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement tabled on Wednesday 1 November 2023.

Youth Capital has been advocating for ongoing funding, and on Tuesday 31 October 2023 had submitted over 16000 signatures, along with  an open letter undersigned by 84 civil society organisations to National Treasury, in support of the Stimulus (PES) extension. South Africa is a young country, but the overwhelming majority of young people struggle to transition into the economy because of systemic challenges. ‘We recognise the role that public employment plays, especially in our economic context of slow growth, in providing young people with skills, income and opportunities to move forward’ says Kristal Duncan-Williams, Project Lead at Youth Capital.

Details about the extension have not been communicated yet, and it is unclear whether the scale of the Stimulus will be retained. However, the programme’s funding comes at the expense of funds from existing public employment programmes, namely the Expanded Public Works Programme and the Community Work Programme. The Minister added that these programmes will undergo a review. ‘Currently, 9.4 million young people are not in employment, education or training opportunities. It’s crucial to remember that youth unemployment and the social crisis that South Africa continues to face need a basket of complementary solutions that can benefit the population by growing the economy and providing a safety net – but the budget is pitting one solution against another’, adds Kristal Duncan-Williams.

The PES made history in October 2020, when it was launched by the Presidency to counteract the devastating economic impact of COVID-19 on the livelihoods and jobs of the majority of South Africans. The Stimulus laid out an energising vision for the future, and rolled out mass employment programmes in the country across 14 sectors. ‘With 8 in 10 participants being young people, the programme has the potential to advance young South Africans’ income-generating opportunities; its two biggest programmes, the Basic Education Employment Initiative, which ran in nearly all public schools across the country, and the Social Employment Fund, in over 1000 communities, have been providing skills development opportunities and high-quality work experiences’ emphasises Duncan-Williams.

In the South African context of chronically high unemployment rates, public employment programmes like the Presidential Employment Stimulus have the potential to connect young people with the world of work by offering temporary employment, a chance to gain transferable skills, build social networks and earn an income. Youth Capital’s latest brief, One million and counting: the Presidential Employment Stimulus,  shows the national impact of the programme through the lessons of the two biggest programmes, the Social Employment Fund and the Basic Education Employment Initiative. To fully promote sustainable livelihoods, the design of these programmes requires work. Leveraging and refining these programmes gives us the opportunity to turn them into pathways to stable income generation for young people. 

The future of the programme requires a collaborative effort from the government, civil society and private sector to ensure continued and strengthened quality implementation at scale. Already, there are numerous conversations and partnerships under way to achieve this, but it all depends on long-term budgetary commitments. ‘Though the Stimulus has been secured for another year, we’ll continue to advocate for long-term, secure funding. We will also advocate for the implementation of recommendations to improve the programme, including comprehensive monitoring and evaluation, access to training and diversifying exit pathways for participants’ concludes Duncan-Williams.

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