It is the 45th anniversary of the Soweto uprising, however, South African youth are still plagued with an array of socio-economic issues.  

Today marks 45 years since the 1976 student uprising in Orlando, Soweto where hundreds were gunned down by police in a demonstration calling for quality education and the scrapping of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction. This was the fatal result of opposing the Bantu education system in particular, and Apartheid in general.   

The legacy of the Soweto uprising and the bravery shown by students on June 16, 1976, will forever be engrained in the history of our nation. But 45 years later, the current youth are faced with not only issues that are a direct legacy of apartheid injustices, but new issues that have manifested in a democratic South Africa.  


Digital divide  

When lockdown hit, remote working was implemented, which led to online resources such as YouTube tutorials and live streaming becoming the “new normal” for the more fortunate. For many young South Africans, however, the increased dependency on digital resources has put a pause on their ability to learn and engage with the world. 

The digital divide came into sharp focus, as those who had access simply had the chance to carry on online, while thousands without adequate and consistent access to data and devices, fell behind when in-person teaching was not permitted. The lack of Information Communications Technologies (ICTs), particularly in rural areas, has hindered efforts to tackle socio-economic challenges holistically, especially those related to education in South Africa. 

According to Statista, internet penetration measures in South Africa are above the halfway mark with 56,3% of the population having internet access. The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), however, has identified South Africa as being among 57 countries that are yet to meet the UN Broadband Commission’s affordability threshold of 1GB data for no more than 2% of the average monthly income.  According to the 2020 Affordability Report, presently, 1GB of mobile data costs an average of about 2,17% of the average monthly income.  

The digital divide is therefore not just limited to the absence of ICTs. It is a form of exclusion that is dependent on persistent forms of social and economic inequalities. Socioeconomic inequality is maintained as some people struggle to access essential information such as online employment opportunities, free courses to upskill and more.  


Youth unemployment  

According to a media statement released by Stats SA on June 1, 2021, the official unemployment rate among youth aged between 15 and 34 years was at a staggering 46,3% in quarter 1 of 2021 and for university graduates, this number is at 9,3%.   

The data reveals that approximately 1,3 million people in South Africa between the ages of 15 and 24 remain unemployed for at least three months.  Much of this cohort, however, are stuck without jobs for a minimum period of 12 months.  

The largest population of unemployed youth are those with a matric certificate, but with no higher education qualification. These South Africans are also the least likely to find permanent formal employment, largely due to their level of education.  

Although the number of unemployed university graduates and those with tertiary qualification is relatively smaller, they are still not immune.  “Most young graduates stay unemployed for three to nine months – but a sizeable portion remain unemployed for longer than that, with almost a quarter being unemployed for more than three years,” reads a Business Tech article.  


 Impact of covid-19 on youth 

On June 14, 2021, higher education minister Blade Ndzimande released the results of a social impact study on covid-19 among the post-school education sector (PSET). The study “explored young people’s experiences and perspectives on the social impact of covid-19 on education and learning in South Africa,” Ndzimande said at the media briefing.  

The study found that the prolonged periods of isolation and restricted movement may have led to additional anxiety among students. The main challenges reported by students during lockdown included loss of study time (57,9%), the lack of money for basic needs such as food (40,1%) and essential study items (55,8%) as well as loss of social contact (42,2%).

Some of the key findings of this study revealed that a staggering 50% of students reported difficulty communicating with their institutions during the lockdown, especially TVET students.  

“In particular, I am concerned about the impact of covid-19 on first-year students, because they are the ones who need to be on campus most; they are the ones who need to adjust from school to university,” said Ndzimande.  

The impact of the pandemic on access to education has drastically and disproportionately affected those who are from lower income households. This will unfortunately have long-term consequences. Coupled with the crippling effects of covid-19 on employment, the future looks bleak for millions of young South Africans.  


FEATURED IMAGE: The South African flag flies high as the National Anthem is led by the Soweto Gospel Choir. Photo: File.