Finding better ways to support South Africa’s children

TV presenter and political commentator Justice Malala says we should worry about what will happen to our children if the politics does not work out and calls for greater action to support the youth.

When political commentator Justice Malala recently addressed a business breakfast audience at Christel House, an independent school for poor children in Cape Town, his reflections on youth unemployment hit a nerve.

The host of TV show The Justice Factor pointed out that most unemployed South Africans are young people, raising concerns about the context that Christel House’s pupils would face once graduating.

“We are lucky to have jobs but 8.3 million South Africans don’t have jobs and a huge number of them are young people,” Malala said.

Youth unemployment deteriorated between 2008 and 2015, and more young people have given up on looking for work, this according to Statistics SA’s youth labour market report published last June.

Of the approximately 19.7-million working-age youth (15 to 34 years), less than one third (6.2-million) had jobs at that time, and 3.6-million were unemployed. A further 9.8-million were not economically active, a segment that includes discouraged work-seekers, full-time students, and homemakers.

Malala cautioned that this does not bode well for the country.

“We are looking at a lot more strife in South Africa. We will see more scenes where young people are burning, looting and asking what’s in this for me. We don’t talk about this enough.”

To address the unemployment crisis, Christel House works to break the cycle of poverty by educating children from some of Cape Town’s poorest areas and teaching their parents practical skills and getting them involved in the school. The Ottery-based school has 755 pupils from Grade R to Grade 12 who receive a holistic education that includes nutritious meals, uniforms and books as well access to modern technology to ensure its graduates are highly employable.

Pupils also have access to doctors, therapists and counsellors to help them cope with the poverty that surrounds them at home, coupled with the social demons of violence, gangsterism, abuse and drugs.

According to CEO Nicky Sheridan, the school is very aware that the world of work is changing and that youth unemployment in particular is endemic in South Africa. As a result, this year, the school has introduced a new entrepreneurship programme to prepare its pupils for a different kind of success beyond the classroom.

“The Entrepreneurship Academy, is the first-of-its-kind entrepreneurship programme in a South African school and is encouraging pupils to start their own small businesses that can improve their lives and impact positively on others,” said Sheridan. “Christel House sees itself as more than just a school. We see ourselves as being in the business of creating economically active South African citizens, who will build our country.”

Ninety-six percent of Christel House graduates are employed or pursuing tertiary education. This is much higher than South Africa’s national average for school leavers, Sheridan noted.

Malala said the country will need to find better ways to support its children going forward.

“It’s absolutely right to worry. What happens to our children if the politics don’t work out? There are two ways of worrying though. You can worry and sit there, not being able to do anything. Or you can worry constructively and do something.”

“I look at the world in a certain way and ask myself what are the things I should worry about or not. I listen to at least ten news items on the radio when I get into my car. If I worry about all of them I am on a road to nowhere,” Malala said.

Sheridan agreed: “It does not help the situation if we don’t act positively. At Christel House, we act to make a difference in our children’s lives and we encourage them to do the same in their communities. In this way, we can build a stronger network of change agents and positive South Africans who will help to get this beautiful country back on track.”

The Business breakfast in the school was attended by more than 200 people in support of Christel House and included organisations committed to eradicating poverty through education including Woolworths, Tsebo, DREAM Vacations, Redisa, Makro, Sanlam, Viking Fishing, and Donaldson & Industro Clean, among others.

As a show of support for Christel House and the work it does, Justice Malala was selling his new book We Have Now Begun our Descent at the business breakfast and donated proceeds to the school.