By Alef Meulenberg, CEO of Afrika Tikkun
The Bloomberg report, showing that South Africa’s 34.4% unemployment rate is the highest in the world, has been devastating, but even more devastating is the high unemployment rate of youth, which now stands at 64.4%.
The majority of our young people have limited opportunities to develop their skills meaningfully through formal employment. Without proper training or employment opportunities, we are bound to lose the potential of a generation – a generation that could have helped with innovative ideas to resolve the many global problems we face. We are wasting our potential as a society while intelligent and energetic young people are being frustrated in ways that we can hardly imagine if we have the privilege of being employed.
Grant-dependent youth without a hope or a future are easily persuaded and influenced to take matters into their own hands. They are easily convinced by political leaders, often with dark agendas, to fight violently for what they want. This creates a fermenting ground for constant unrest.
In July 2021 we saw the escalation of unrest – violent protests that swept across Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. What began as a response by supporters of former President Jacob Zuma to his imprisonment soon descended into chaos, looting, injury and death.
Business Leadership South Africa estimates that the damage resulting from the protests amounts to more than R5 billion for the retail industry alone. Media reports have indicated that R1.5 billion in stock was lost in Durban’s economic zone, with R15 billion in damage to property. More than 50,000 informal traders and 40,000 businesses have been impacted by the violence and looting in the province.
That one week of madness and mayhem was a blow to our country and economy, particularly given that small businesses are responsible for between 50% and 60% of employment in South Africa and contribute around 34% of GDP. The compounded impact of these actions means that as many as 150,000 jobs are at risk, and many more face hardships and malnourishment at home. Some analysts put the total cost on the country’s GDP at approximately R50 billion and the GDP loss at about R40 billion, or about 0.7% of GDP.
At Afrika Tikkun, we launched the #RevivingTownshipEconomies campaign – one business at a time – to assist in the rebuilding of community-based organisations severely affected by the protests across South Africa. We are literally rebuilding township economies one business at a time.
Our goal is, by December 2021, to support a minimum of 2 500 small businesses that were affected by the looting in KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng.
To date, Afrika Tikkun has approved support to just over 200 businesses in the wake of the riots. These businesses cut across sectors, including education, retail, events planning, dentistry, telecommunications, and agriculture, among others.
The common denominator among these businesses is the financial devastation they are currently experiencing and the lack of support and funding to cushion the impact. Many businesses were not insured, placing them in even more precarious positions for financial recovery.
All of the businesses we support are black owned and born of sheer determination and passion. Some were established directly in response to community needs and challenges. Our analysis is that these businesses have what it takes to succeed, but cannot survive the bitter double whammy of looting and the current economic downturn. The business owners are requesting support in the form of a financial injection to address loss of income for themselves and their employees, replacement of goods destroyed or looted, repairs to vandalised property, and the replacement of business assets such as machinery, equipment and goods essential to the running of the business.
By assisting these businesses in a practical and immediate way, we aim to ensure that jobs are saved that would otherwise have been lost, and that these businesses, so essential to revived township economies, survive.
We are working at the coalface of economic recovery and consider our work central to addressing youth unemployment and poverty. One business at a time, we are building township economies. If our work, both in funding and entrepreneurship training, were duplicated across the country, we might really begin to challenge the prevailing narrative of South Africa’s ‘lost youth’.