NATIONAL NEWS - South Africa has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world. A whopping 63% of its young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years are jobless.
A large proportion of these young people have never worked in the formal economy.
The media frequently portray young people excluded from wage work as inactive, aimless and alienated from mainstream society. This image feeds into fears of crime, violence and social unrest in which people who are jobless are cast as a “ticking time bomb” that poses a threat to a country’s stability.
But this is a very misleading characterisation. Most analyses of unemployed youth fail to grapple with the reality that unemployment in the sense of “doing nothing” is not a feasible option for most young people.
As research in many parts of Africa, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, has shown, unemployed young people use a wide range of economic strategies and practices to acquire an income.
I conducted research in Zandspruit informal settlement, north of Johannesburg, in 2015 and 2016, on the lives, livelihoods and struggles of mostly young men who were either unemployed or marginally employed. It included life and work history interviews with 37 young people, a survey of 100 young people and a mapping exercise of the local economy, including semi-structured interviews with 40 local business owners.
My study showed that many unemployed young people are engaged in a variety of economic activities. Many of these are not necessarily recorded as a form of self employment or informal employment, but they consume a large part of young people’s lives.