The following speech was delivered in Parliament today by DA Member of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education & Training, Hlomela Bucwa MP, during the debate on Youth Day.
Let me begin by sharing simple words from one of the leaders who has inspired me not because he spoke to truth to power or fought for equal rights, but because he lived that which he preached.
Dr Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
He did not choose to place one issue above the other, or one race over another, but argued that we would inevitably lose our humanity the day we refused to speak out.
Honourable Members, we believe that every South African is of equal worth regardless of class, race, gender or creed.
It is indeed a great tragedy that, two decades into our democracy, young people remain locked out of opportunities. They are victims of an unjust system that continues to favour the elite few.
It is easier for some to stand here and pretend they have a good story to tell as some of these members sit in ivory towers oblivious to the challenges faced by our youth on the ground.
For some of us, it is unfathomable how one can continue to say they are doing well while the majority of youth are still not free from the shackles of poverty and unemployment, while young women lack total freedom of movement because of crime and lack of sanitary towels.
It is the greatest irony, noting that the government is celebrating the centenary of Nelson Mandela – whose legacy they claim must be lived.
Former President Mandela said: “education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person of another.”
However, the unfortunate reality we face today is that:
- Unemployment has increased: we have 9.5 million people who can’t find employment or have given up on searching for a job;
- Of the 20 million young people between the ages of 15 -35, almost 8 million are not in education, training or employment;
- 71% of schools have no library facilities and almost 60% of schools do not have computer labs;
- 490 699 learners drop out of school between grades 10 and 12;
- 35% of students in institutions of higher learning drop out due to the lack of funding for tuition, accommodation, transport and food;
- 39 828 rape incidences have been reported in the year 2016/17; and
- Between 2014 and 2016 a total of 42 253 pupils from Grades 3 to 12 fell pregnant. 193 of these pupils were in Grades 3, 4 and 5.
These are not characteristics of a growing state or one that seeks sustainable socio-economic development with an emphatic focus on the youth as we remain the present and the future of our country.
There is no true freedom in poverty and unemployment. There is no freedom without quality education when our TVET colleges are degenerating each day.
When our students are subjected to inhumane living conditions and lack of resources we set them up for failure. When we fail to support young entrepreneurs and glorify looting we fail our nation.
But a critical point I must emphasise again is the importance of education as a tool of empowerment for our youth. It remains a tragedy that access to quality education remains skewed according to income level that, in turn, correlates with race.
In other words, many black children from low-income households continue to be denied opportunities because of the huge inequality in terms of instructional quality that exists in the South African education system.
The expansion of access to education for all children has been one of the great achievements of the democratic era. The focus has included increasing the quantity of teachers, sometimes to the detriment of quality.
Therefore, we see many of our students in institutions of higher learning struggling and you’d find that we try to fix basic education problems in higher education.
As a country, we must invest in quality technical and vocational education and skills training (TVET), and university education.
The funding of tuitions for students and education and training institutions remains an issue for education and skills development in the country. For example, the TVET college sector is underfunded by government.
In 2017/18, the subsidies only covered 53% of costs rather than 80% as prescribed by policy, leaving 50 government-funded TVETs struggling under social and financial pressures from students and staff.
While there is an increase in enrolments, the amount of students who do not complete their qualifications is astronomical.
Chair, a DA-led government would prioritise our TVET colleges by revising the curriculum and content provided to equip our youth with skills that will enable them to actively participate in the economy, be innovative and solve the challenges they face today.
We will continue to advocate for more practical training to ensure that we reach the 70/30 requirement. We would ensure that we amend the current funding policy to ensure that our students get their allowances on time as it is inhumane to allow students to register and only release allowances after five months into the academic year. Our students would be provided with dignified accommodation that would ensure a living and learning environment.
The DA funding model in institutions of higher learning seeks to ensure that no student who is eligible to study is prevented to do so because they cannot afford to. It will ensure that a child of a domestic worker can acquire and education and be granted funding which will cover full cost of study.
Those who fall within the missing middle would be proportionally subsidised and those who can afford must pay. To suggest that the child of Honourable Ramaphosa must study for free is an injustice – it perpetuates inequality.
Lastly, Chair, allow me to draw strength again from Dr King who said: “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
The strides of the youth of ‘76 were not in vain and should never be undermined, as they served as great contributors to the freedoms we enjoy today.
The time has come again for the youth to rise and take out the government and usher in a new beginning.
The DA recognises and acknowledges the injustices of the past and seeks to achieve on South Africa for all where we can live in a free, fair and diverse country with equal opportunities for all.