Youth and Cooperatives in SA

Africa as a continent is reportedly said to have at least 70% of its population as youth. South Africa is similar, is having majority of its citizens as youth. The youth is not involved much in matters of natural sciences, such as agriculture, forestry, water, biodiversity etc, and that on its own does not bode well for South Africa. Facts or myths keeping youth from venturng into such wide field, need to be explored and myths must indeed be debunked for the betterment of our country as well as continent. In the unfolding of the new political dispensation, several entities were introduced with the key objectives of tackling pertinent issues pertaining to youth. Among the youth agencies formed in the birth of democracy were the National Youth Commission, Umsobomvu yet after fifteen years, one can hardly count the successes of such bodies. The the youth are still in a deep quagmire of unemployment, inadequate educational funds, teenage pregnancies, lack of access to business finance, poor public education etc. As the song title by one songbird of R n B, suggested “Where do we go from here?” is the question, that ought to be answered at all.

In business studies, one of the key things that is recommended is the SWOT Analysis, whereby strengths,weaknesses,opportunies ans threats are deliberately looked into, for strategy to be devised to better deal with any given challenges and advantages. Looking at the former apartheid regime, the main pillars of agriculture, forestry,water resources and nature conservation were agricultural colleges, technikons, universities, agricultural boards and political will. All those young graduates from different academic institutes were given support to venture into agriculture on the basis of passion, education and drive. The mere fact that we now have some well seasoned, experienced farmers was due to dedication, planning, sound financial allocation, and pragmatic execution. The National Youth Commission as a youth entity has failed disamally in raising concerns of youth, except to be a lucrative employment opportunity for the few, and thus has left the youth exposed and prone to vulnerabilty. How could it be that millions of rands were wasted in the name of youth, and the same youth didn’t benefit out of such things. It’s a downright mystery. In the globalized economic environment, we can hardly make it unless, we prepare ourselves to perform at the highest standard. This therefore, calls for selfless dedication to serving our country with its people. And this simply means putting first things first. The current approach in South Africa is top-down, whereby politicians dictate what to be done and  in most cases this results in failure. Would it not be better for politicians to listen to the people? The bottom-up approach, and history informs us unequivocally that such appraoch bears fruit. The classical examples are how all cooperatives in  the past were formed by like-minded people with more or less the same objectives is the Natal Cooperative Dairy (NCD) that later transformed into Clover, which was a cooperative owned by dairy farmers with key objectives like profit maximization, bargaining power etc. So the current version of cooperatives is forced down the throats of people, including youth and to some degree those people are not likely to be like minded, but to access State funding and so forth, oxen pulling towards different directions are yoked together.

The government strategy of dangling the carrot to cooperatives is not a good gesture for this country, and when an individual approaches the State, the money bag is hidden, only to be told that only Cooperatives can access money. No wonder most of the cooperatives have not yet materialized and  become fully fledged business enterprises. It is due to political fallacy that anyone can be turned into business man or woman, on political and financial support grounds. So being business entity is not only a matter of being registered with SARS, CIPC etc, but also the technical know-how, dedication, and hard work – such crucial elements of any business. By politically grouping people together under one name of cooperative, we are not nurturing entrepreneurship per se, except to formalize people’s schemes to access and exploit public funds for their own aggrandizement, much to the disenfranchisement of youth and further economic alienation. As the youth, we have just become political tokens of those so power hungry that they speak in relative terms that greatly relate to youth issues. And such shrewd politicians don’t fail to amuse us, as they can call meetings and spell out non-existent plans for the future. It is time the sleeping giant wakes up, since it has been taken for a ride for  too long, given the fact that as politicians promote cooperatives, they personally don’t subscribe to such ideals, as they often access funds from State owned finnancial enterprises, like Land Bank, Ithala to buy individual farms, golf estate properties etc.

How often politicians, talk of skills shortage in South Africa, yet they can hardly ascertain  the number of graduates in any field. Such is the nature of our politicians, they tell us want we to hear, not the truth, and the fact that few people expect hard facts in life, is the reason why they spare truth and relay trash. It is often said, history is weapon, so in order to advance, we must know where we come from, and knowing what we have conquered in the past, will inform us, what is likely to lie ahead, for meticulous planning and ruthless execution. The current crop of politicians as rulers than leaders are main hurdle to entrerpreneurship, as most of them find themselves in portfolios they are least or poorly skilled and competent, therefore tend to be indicisive, if not imposing business models to be religiosuly followed, of which in most cases are just redundantly outdated. The youth, so grouped into cooperatives, find itself as beggars as they often carry the begging bowls from State department to another, and plight of being turned into political beggar, does not auger well for future of this country. The youth is not looking for financial handouts of some sort, but just tailor made, well structured  financial deals and institutional support to navigate the maze of business landscape, until they can gradually take off to reach their entrepreneurial destination. So as the “pap geld” politics has become norm in South Africa, so the youth in its totality, is left alone to fend for itself, and this is clarion call to them, to take iniatives, play meaningful role and partake in the issues of national interest, than trivial issues of “pap geld” politics.

Sithembiso Mahlaba

An agriculturist by profession, blogger by passion, prominent opinion-maker without favour or fear.

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