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Address by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Solutions Exchange, Spier Estate, Stellenbosch

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Members of the Human Resource Development Council,
Representatives of various government departments and agencies,
Leaders from business, labour and civil society,
Leadership of Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Evening!

It is truly an honour to attend a gathering like the Solutions Exchange.

It is exceptional because of its singular focus on an inclusive plan to absorb the youth of our country into income generating activities.

The Solutions Exchange affirms the ingenuity of South Africans, their imagination and enduring capacity for collaboration.

It is a reminder that, when confronted with difficulties, our instinct is to seek solutions.

The Solutions Exchange goes beyond analysing, defining and understanding the problem.

It seeks instead to identify specific opportunities that are ambitious, but achievable.

To realise Vision 2030 of the National Development Plan, we must focus on creating scalable and pragmatic solutions that can yield visible, measurable results in the shortest possible time.

We need solutions that provide pathways to employment for excluded and vulnerable youth.

These must address mismatches of demand and supply for entry level positions in growing sectors, across SMMEs and large enterprises.

We are convinced that this initiative must – and will – succeed.

It will do well because its work is informed by existing data and evidence-based research.

It will do well because it has the active support of government and organisations and individuals with a wealth of experience.

These are committed citizens and trusted social partners with a proven commitment to transforming the pain, suffering and social marginalisation of young people into dignity, hope and shared prosperity.

The extent of the crisis of youth unemployment and poverty means that we have to take extraordinary measures.

We need to focus on better implementation by setting clear targets and clear timeframes to achieve real and measurable impact.

This speaks not only to the efficient use of limited public and private resources, but also to leadership, collaboration and a spirit of patriotism.

We need, through this work, to affirm the faith that our founding President Nelson Mandela had in our people when he said:

“My country is rich in gems and minerals that lie beneath its soil, but I have always known that its greatest wealth is in its people, finer and truer than the purest diamonds.”

The Solutions Exchange is about shifting the narrative of a youth that is losing hope in our policies and programmes to a youth that is enabled, empowered, treasured and affirmed.

It is about harnessing the potential of our youth to enable them to fruitfully contribute in their own development and that of their country.

It is about realising the demographic dividend.

The challenge of youth unemployment calls for a new era where we involve young people themselves in developing the solutions that are meant for their benefit.

It calls on all stakeholders to recognise that young people are impatient with being consigned to the margins when we craft solutions aimed at addressing their plight.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Accelerating inclusive youth employment and creating sustainable pathways for young people in the economy is urgent.

The fact that around 6 million young people are not in education, employment or training should be seen as a national emergency.

This is exacerbated by the fact that there are only around 500,000 entry-level job vacancies each year, in an economy that is slowing further.

The wasted human potential is significant.

Growing new jobs to expand the size of the labour market is a complex task.

It requires coordinated investment and focused effort.

The scale, impact and agility required to convert youth from learning to earning can only be achieved through effective collaboration.

Whatever differences we may have, whatever concerns we may have about the state of the country, we must ensure our every endeavour is geared towards the creation of jobs for the youth.

But these much needed jobs will not be generated in any significant and impactful way if economic growth remains subdued.

They will not materialise for as long as our economy is stifled by the structural constraints of apartheid and the debilitating effects of a state that is increasingly captured by narrow private interests.

We must address both challenges with equal vigour and determination.

Although we find ourselves in turbulent times, we dare not succumb to paralysis and despondency.

Now, more than ever, we need to work together on practical measures to turn around the economy and create jobs.

In our boardrooms, in our clubs, in our places of worship, at our places of learning, on the factory floor, the overriding consideration must be employment creation and the safeguarding of existing jobs.

Now, more than ever, the social partners need to define a common programme for growth and work tirelessly to implement it.

In the first instance, that requires measures to restore the confidence of investors and broader society in our economy and developmental path.

It requires that we, as government, confront corruption and state capture, that we provide certainty on key policy issues, that we put in place a capable team of individuals who can be trusted to put the interests of the people first.

In much the same way as we were able to reach agreement among social partners on labour stability and a national minimum wage, business, labour and government need to develop a joint programme for economic recovery and inclusive growth.

As we do so, we must draw lessons from those areas where progress has been made and where work is ongoing.

The work that has started in the business process outsourcing industry is encouraging and gives a sense of what is possible in other sectors.

This sector, partly because of the relatively low barriers to entry, is one of our country’s leading job sectors for unemployed young people.

We need to look at how government’s public employment programmes can be better used to prepare young people for full-time employment.

These public employment programmes, which are an integral part of our poverty alleviation efforts, need to become part of a broader society-wide approach to youth employment that incorporates existing initiatives, including pioneering programmes such as Harambee.

This effort will be bolstered in the coming months with the launch of the Youth Empowerment Service, which will place unemployed young people in paid internships across all sectors of the economy.

The YES programme will provide work experience to young people on a far greater scale than has been attempted before.

The task we have is to ensure that all these programmes complement and reinforce each other, so that we optimally deploy our resources, energy and expertise to achieve the greatest impact.

Fellow Compatriots,

The work done here is commendable and inspires hope for the future of job creation in our country.

I wish to extend my heartfelt gratitude to all the presenters and all the participants.

Thank you for putting inclusive youth employment at the centre of your work and that of your organisations.

Please be assured of government’s unequivocal commitment to support the solutions you develop.

I undertake to share with Cabinet colleagues, members of Parliament and members of the HRDC a report on your work.

This is an evening where we also celebrate those within the private sector who are exemplary corporate citizens.

We applaud those in our business community who are committed to being part of the solution to the national challenge of joblessness.

Only when business and government make it their daily responsibility to create jobs will our nation achieve prosperity.

History will be unkind to all of us if we frustrate the hopes of millions of our youth.

History will not forgive us if we squander the many opportunities we have to invest in the development of our youth.

The youth of South Africa deserve a better deal.

I am confident that, working together, we will achieve it.

I thank you.