By Carmel Marock and Candice Harrison-Train

28 March 2018 - 09:00

Illuminated sign that says 'ask' on the side of a brick building
'The survey found that overall, 65 per cent of respondents said that they are a member of one or more community organisations.' Photo  ©

terimakasih0 licensed under CC0 1.0 and adapted from the original

Next Generation South Africa asks young people about work, education, politics and community. Carmel Marock and Candice Harrison-Train, who edited the report, summarise the findings. 

The context

On 27 April 1994, South Africa held its first democratic election after the dissolution of the Apartheid state. This was the first election in which citizens of all races were allowed to take part. As of 2017, young people constituted 36.5 per cent of the total South African population. Between 2009 and 2014, the youth population in South Africa grew from 18.5 million to 19.6 million, of a total population of 53.7 million.

What trends are we seeing in modern youth mobility in South Africa?

Young people in South Africa are highly mobile, most notably from rural areas towards urban areas.

Interestingly, previous research suggests that migration can come with many challenges, including even more difficulty finding jobs than those born and growing up in cities, as well as the challenges that come with living in informal settlements with high transport costs to the city hubs.

However, the findings from Next Generation South Africa suggest that the young people who have moved have found ways to improve their living circumstances, and that the level of poverty in their households has reduced. 

What issues of equality has the report uncovered in education participation rates and matriculation?

Only about 47 per cent of 22- to 25-year-olds in the country have completed Grade 12, compared to 70 per cent in most developing countries. However, of concern is that education levels differ by race. White and Indian/Asian young people have the highest chance of earning postgraduate and undergraduate qualifications. By contrast, Black African and so-called 'coloured' groups (groups in South Africa who historically have mixed heritage) have the highest proportions of young people who have not completed high school.

How do those issues affect educational outcomes and careers?

The inequalities in education then persist in terms of access to the economy. Within the youth population, there are young people who are substantially more disadvantaged than their counterparts in their ability to access the economy. The rate of those not in education, employment or training for black African youth is three times higher than that of white youth. Young women face higher rates of not being in education, employment or training than young men.

However, the report found that while race, age and gender remain important in considering the extent to which young people navigate the labour market, other factors, such as youth membership of community organisations or access to workplace experience, also play an important role. Another important variable that emerged was whether young people had defined career goals. Surprisingly, where the young person lives (urban or rural areas) and their level of education – while important factors – were not as significant as the other factors outlined above.

What view do young people in South Africa have of politics?

Our research shows that as many as 42 per cent of young people reported that they discussed South African politics quite often or very often, while 58 per cent indicated that they do not discuss South African politics very often. Despite this, the vast majority of young people in the survey (85 per cent) indicated that they viewed voting in South African elections as important. When providing the reasons for this view, just under half of the respondents indicated that they felt it is important to vote, because if young people vote, they will ‘get the government [they] want’.

There is also a broader view of young people's involvement in society to consider. The survey found that overall, 65 per cent of respondents were members of one or more community organisations. A much smaller percentage of participants (11 per cent and 12 per cent respectively), indicated that they have either been involved in setting up a club or group in their community, or held a leadership position in one of these clubs or groups. Residents from Limpopo – the most rural and poorest province – were more likely than others to hold leadership positions, or be involved in establishing community structures.

We also found that young people want to work with others, but they have a strong sense of self-reliance, with approximately eight in ten saying they needed to help themselves.

Which other countries and cultures influence young people in South Africa?

The good news is that despite the challenges with xenophobia in South Africa, the vast majority of South African youth do not feel that immigrants are taking their jobs. Thirty-seven per cent said they have no problem with foreigners from other African countries living in South Africa. Some state that foreigners from other African countries bring value, such as skills.

Looking further afield, young people were asked about their preferences in countries outside of the continent. It emerged that the United States is the most influential country and by far the most desirable one to visit. The United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates were ranked some way behind.

What recommendations for the future do we gain from this research?


This research notes the range of policies and programmes that are in place in South Africa. However, it suggests that there is a need to continue efforts, at a policy and programme level, to ensure that there are opportunities for those young people who are marginalised. This includes strengthening mechanisms to ensure that young people have the information that they require to make choices. The survey found that technology could support this. Despite poor access to many resources, young South Africans have high levels of access to the internet, and use the internet as the primary source of news and information. The report also found that young people turn to the internet first on important issues, such as sexual and reproductive health, rather than ask their parents.

Location and transport

We also found that location is a key factor in determining employment outcomes, as transport is a real barrier to job-seeking. We therefore recommended that there is a need to consider how to expand local economies and the opportunities that are available to young people within this context.

Community involvement and workplace experience

This research also shows the importance of focusing on workplace experience, and reinforces the value of many of the initiatives underway. The Department of Higher Education and Training, for example, has developed a framework for implementing and funding workplace experience programmes for young people who are graduating from technical, vocational education and training colleges. These are critical resources for young people transitioning into the labour market. Employers are also working actively with government to find ways to give young people access to work experience. It also highlights the role that community organisations play in building young people’s resilience, and enabling young people to access employment. This suggests there is a need to increase the number of young people who are able to volunteer in such groups.

Personal goals and agency

Recognition of the importance of young people having goals and the knowledge to achieve them is also important in shaping both selection processes for employment or education, and designing interventions. This suggests a stronger focus on building the skills that allow young people to internalise these goals and plans, develop an understanding of the importance of connections and, in so doing, building their sense of personal agency and resilience. For example, young people in the study demonstrate that where they have clear goals, coupled with a clear action plan to realise these goals, they are more likely to succeed in getting a job or growing their own businesses.

On average, respondents rated their happiness levels at approximately six out of ten currently, but estimated they would be much happier in the future. This optimism was also conveyed in the responses young people gave to questions about education, career ambitions and personal relations. Respondents were most likely to give a low score to their current financial state than any of the other aspects of their lives, though they remained confident that this would significantly increase within five years.

Read the Next Generation South Africa report.

The Next Generation series focuses on the attitudes and aspirations of young people, and the policies and conditions that support them in becoming creative, fulfilled and active citizens. This includes their views on education and employment, their daily lives and networks, their hopes and fears for their country and their degree of international engagement and views on the wider world.

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