The State of the National Address (SONA) sets the tone for government plans and policy implementation affecting South Africans. The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (the Fund) reviewed the address with the aim of establishing how government has positioned issues related to children and youth.
Since its establishment in 1995 by former president Nelson Mandela, the Fund has a long history of advocating for the rights of children including leading the development of a children’s manifesto by children that was handed over to the current president, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, in 2019. It is worth noting the challenges experienced by children then, are still relevant today.
In this year’s SONA 2023, the President Cyril Ramaphosa, made it clear that government focus is on prioritising the energy crisis. Whilst the Fund recognises the need for urgent intervention in this regard, we note that this should not be done to the neglect of issues related to children and that they too, should be engaged on national issues.
On 09 February 2023, President Cyril Ramaphosa, declared a National State of Disaster, during the State of the Nation Address (SONA), as a response to the debilitating energy crisis characterised by continuous blackouts.
The President made quite clear that his priority focus for his administration, is the current energy crisis of our country, with the introduction of a new portfolio, the Ministry of Electricity.
While, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (the Fund) welcomes the efforts to tackle the energy crisis, we note with concern the lack of young voices in tackling this issue.
The Fund agrees with the President’s sentiments that unemployment is a structural problem that needs to be addressed and welcomes the initiatives mentioned by the President in the attempts to reduce it. For example, the revitalised National Youth Service, The Social Unemployment Fund, placing TVET graduates in employment and supporting women and youth led SMEs. The Fund also welcomes the partnership between the NYDA and the government that has enabled 3 million users to access the SAYouthMobi service application for learning and employment opportunities. However, such platforms need to be widespread to allow more youths to have access to them.
As a non-profit organisation with a mandate of promoting the rights of children and youth, the Fund believes in supporting entrepreneurial business for youth and advocates for more collaboration between government, the private sector and civil society in this regard. As a result, the Fund has made its own efforts in entrepreneurial empowerment through its Efeng Bacha programme, which is aimed at capacitating youth with necessary skills for employment and provides opportunities to entrepreneurial training and mentorship.
The Fund recently also supported 250 learners to attend the World Science Forum STEM Bootcamp in Cape Town, in December 2022, under the theme of “Science for Social Justice”, to promote science opportunities, resources and equal access to members of society, especially children and youth.
Skills development for children and youth need to be at the forefront and a priority focus area in the development of science skills. The Fund welcomes the projected R800 million allocation to the digital skills and tech sector, as its important to ensure children and youth are taught the appropriate skills for the future of the workplace, especially considering the growing fast pace of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The Fund also welcomes the anticipated R1.5 trillion for funding to be allocated over the next five years to accommodate the new emerging sectors in our economy and the emerging renewable energy projects, with the increase of investments being made in the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape. However, there needs to be more details on which sectors are identified for investment, how the funds will be spent and definition of the metrics of success to enable the government to be held accountable.
Crime & Safety
The Fund supports the increasing of Thuthuzela Care Centres and the strengthening of the NPA, SAPS and Courts. However, again, clarity is needed on what the President means when referring to "strengthening" these centres. A clear plan needs to be shared with the nation on how government plans to ensure that those who commit serious crimes such as rape and murder remain behind bars.
As the crime stats continue to increase, with more children and women being the targets of heinous acts, The Fund calls for more police officers to be trained and to be visible on the streets.
The president stated that government will produce 10 000 SAPS graduates, however last year the target of 12 000 was not met, proving that further focus is needed in this space for targets to be achieved.
The Fund also calls for a review of the training programme of the police. As highlighted by the president, officers tend to not respond to phone calls received on the emergency number (10111). The Fund does not believe this is due to a lack of human capital at the call centres. It is suggested that the police force needs rigorous intervention in a bid to decrease crime rates. Along with reviewing the training programme, The Fund recommends that monitoring visits must be conducted regularly at police stations, especially those that are in crime hotspots. Non-performing police stations must be dealt with appropriately.
The Fund attended various public hearings for the Children's Amendment Bill, and in addition hosted the Portfolio Committee for Social Development in an online hearing whereby children from all over the country presented their submissions on the Bill. One of the key issues highlighted in all the hearings was the need for the Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector to be moved to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and for more funding and support to be provided to this sector. The Fund is pleased with the decision to locate the ECD portfolio under DBE as well as the plan to streamline ECD subsidies through the DBE to enable more children to access these services.
The Fund applauds the DBE for establishing the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) Initiative and the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery (ASIDI), which aims to ensure that all the issues related to water, sanitation and electricity in schools are addressed. However, there is lack of evidence that 55 000 toilets have been built through this programme as claimed by the President, as such a comprehensive report needs to be shared with the public on this matter.
Access to higher education has always been a great concern for the youth in this country as statistics show that youth have greater chances of employment when they graduate from institutions of higher education, as opposed to when they only hold a matric certificate or neither. The Fund recognises that NSFAS is overburdened, receiving more than 600 000 applications every year, and has to be strict in its mandate to provide financial support to students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, more focus is needed on students who fall outside the NSFAS requirements i.e. "the missing middle”. As such, government needs to be transparent and provide feedback to the public on the finalised Comprehensive Student Funding Model.
In April 2022, the Fund joined the Speaker of National Assembly, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on her trip to Makhanda as she congratulated and encouraged school learners for their improvement in school performance results. The Fund believes collaboration between civil society organisations and parliament could elicit more positive results and welcomes government’s efforts to capacitate schools lacking resources across the country.
A global challenge, climate change, threatens the health, wellbeing and socio-economic state of vulnerable communities, in particular, across the world and South Africa is no exception. Children and youth are disproportionally affected by climate change. The KwaZulu-Natal floods resulted in devastating deaths of more than 50 children, with more children being displaced, and facing limited access to water and basic services.
The Fund notes with concern, that the presidential address did not include any plans to further support the affected children and youth in the region, who are still in need of rehabilitation and psychosocial support following the floods.
The Fund welcomes the President’s call to continue the transition to a low carbon economy, as this will present an opportunity for investment in other energy sources, thus increasing opportunities for a healthier planet, clean-tech and conservation-related jobs.
In closing, children and youth form more than a third of the population in South Africa. Research has shown that they are the most vulnerable when it comes to issues of safety and protection, health, education, unemployment and climate change. Thus, it is disappointing to note that once again the SONA failed to acknowledge the numerous societal ills that continue to impede on young people's growth and holistic development.
Considering the lack of a concrete plan of action directly addressing these issues, the Fund calls for urgent attention to be placed on matters concerning the wellbeing of children.
Children and youth should be prioritised and placed at the centre of all strategic planning and conversations. The Fund will continue to be a champion for children and youth and looks forward to working together with relevant duty-bearers, including government, to ensure that society changes the way it treats its children and youth.
The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (the Fund) is a social development agency founded by former president, Mr Nelson Mandela in 1995. In line with its vision to Change the Way Society Treats its Children and youth, the Fund’s mission is to give voice and dignity to the African child by building a rights-based movement. The organisation’s strategic programmes include, Child Safety and Protection, Child Survival Development and Thriving, Sustainable Livelihoods, Youth Leadership and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital in Parktown, Johannesburg.
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