SA’s youth won’t thrive without good policies
Nicholas Woode-Smith, an author, economic historian, and political analyst, is a contributing author for the Free Market Foundation. 

SA could benefit dramatically from shifts in global demographics, if only we adopted the right policies and supported the correct institutions to harness our youthful population and material resources. Unfortunately, we live under a regime that not only neglects education and infrastructure, but actively restricts its youth from prospering.

SA has the potential to be a global economic powerhouse. We have the world’s largest reserves of gold, platinum, chrome ore and manganese ore, and the second-largest reserves of zirconium, vanadium and titanium. We also have abundant supplies of diamonds, uranium, copper, nickel, and a whole lot of coal.

Some of the largest and most successful mining companies in history reside in SA, providing the industry, capital and expertise to extract these resources and sell them to a global market, or jumpstart local manufacturing. This could enrich us all.

But, despite our abundant resources, pre-existing industry and need to develop, our youth unemployment remains more than 50% (in 2022). This is usually blamed on a lack of education and infrastructure. But many matriculants and university graduates still struggle to find jobs.

And above that, shouldn’t a developing country like ours be able to provide opportunities for our youth, regardless of their education level? There is a place for everyone in an economy. We must not fixate on providing a university education to every South African. This will not solve our problems. We need skilled workers, tradesmen and blue-collar workers who want to work, not waste time on a pretentious degree.

Education is not the root cause of our unemployment. Rather, SA lacks the necessary policy frameworks and institutions to truly harness our youthful population, or our pre-existing industries and infrastructure.

SA’s government, driven by an obsession with socialist ideology and Marxism, has become fixated on policies that sabotage economic growth and actively contribute to unemployment.

BEE and affirmative action policies discourage the growth of businesses, allow the political capture of businesses, and actively dissuade businesses from employing anyone at all. The political empowerment of unions into local superpowers ensures that while union members will become privileged and overpaid, there will continue to be far too many barriers to enter the workplace for young prospective workers.

This is on top of a cavalcade of regulations that make conducting business unnecessarily hard. Labour regulations unfairly benefit the employee, discouraging employers from hiring new blood. The Reserve Bank tightly controls money transfers into the country, making it difficult for South Africans to seek remote work because it leads to increased tax.

If SA wants to harness its youthful demographic, it needs to make this country friendly to businesses and friendly to employers. That means making it easy to hire and fire workers, removing political interference in business, and cutting swathes of regulations that serve only to chase businesses and skilled workers away.

We should consider eliminating the minimum wage to make it as easy as possible to get a job, and encourage workers to constantly seek out better employment so that deserving workers are rewarded for their efforts while newer workers are given a chance.

The path to success isn’t for everyone to get a degree. It is for jobs to be created that people can then fulfil. If we become friendly to businesses, SA’s demographics and resources will finally be able to elevate the country to the economic status it deserves.

All it takes is a commitment to free market principles, and the realisation that employment requires an employer to create a job.