A civic war against South African youth: An overview of the effects on unemployment on young people

By Aphelele Mtwecu


This article provides an overview of the effects of youth unemployment in South Africa. As a result of this crisis, young people may feel hopeless, diminished in self-worth, and disillusioned. The article argues for an intersectional approach involving various stakeholders and active youth participation to address this crisis. This will empower young individuals for a better future.

‘In the words of Juan Somvia, “Youth unemployment is not only a personal tragedy but also a waste of human capital essential for economic growth and social development.”.

Our country has become a poster child for this crisis. We have an eye-watering 35.6% unemployment rate which puts us at the top of the International Economic Outlook (2022) report. Despite government efforts to mitigate the fallout, the economic participation decline has dire consequences for citizens, particularly youth. The National Youth Development Agency’s (NYDA) Integrated Youth Development strategy report (IYDS) Integrated Youth Development strategy Report (IYDS)  (2021) highlights that this structural strain has created socioeconomic inequality, which disproportionately affects disadvantaged youth, making it harder for them to participate in the workforce and achieve long-term social stability. Youth unemployment has consequences beyond economic struggles. As Jahoda (1982) argued, employment also serves critical psychological functions, such as providing a sense of purpose, structure, and social identity. Therefore, it’s essential to consider how this crisis impacts young people’s overall well-being, especially those who are most vulnerable to its effects.

Young people face significant vulnerabilities, such as abject poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity, when they lack employment or any source of income. According to the IYDS report, 63% of young people do not have income, and many rely on childcare grants to support themselves. Consequently, this reliance on social grants provides temporary relief but ultimately perpetuates their dependence on the state. This reliance is evident in the high proportion of youth, specifically individuals aged 15 to 34 years, who constitute 60% of applicants for the R350 Social Relief from Distress (SRD) grant, as reported by the South African Social Services Agency (SASSA).

The feeling of hopelessness, lack of self-worth, and drowning feelings have been expressed by a number of young people. Feeling like no one can help. This phenomenon, aptly described by Jahoda (2012), is characterized by a deprivation of collective purpose experienced by those active in the workforce. This collective purpose serves as a conduit for individuals to channel their aspirations, ambitions, and drive toward endeavors that transcend their own self-interest. Regrettably, when young people are denied this opportunity, a void permeates their lives. They are left grappling with purposelessness, feeling adrift without a clear direction or meaningful path to follow. This vacuum of purpose contributes to their feelings of hopelessness, diminished self-worth, and disillusionment.

We can see that the scramble for food, shelter, and identity has led to a cry of desperation. This has left young people in South Africa in turmoil. As a result, they often find themselves trapped in precarious situations, increasing the likelihood of resorting to unorthodox and illegal methods to survive. Minister of Bheki Cele, said, ‘’High rates of unemployment and poverty levels, the mushrooming of informal settlements with little to no services and other socio-economic ills breed criminality’’

According to a study conducted by the South African College for Applied Psychology, one in six South Africans suffer from anxiety, depression, or substance-use problems. These numbers are rising daily, and not only are young people feeling trapped, but the state of psycho-social interventions and support in the country is ill-attended and underfunded.

Unemployment ripple effects have long been recognized, and productivity loss consequences have been documented by many economists. On the macro level, we see the cash injections by the government, we see the NYDA, working with Youth Employment Service(YES) and many other interventions, but even with them, we find ourselves in dire and urgent situations. In light of this, an intersectional approach is needed. Firstly, the state needs to tell the truth about the extent of the crisis. This should be done through a public declaration that stipulates two things. Job creation is a complex and time-consuming process. Secondly, an all-hands-on-deck approach is needed, involving stakeholders from the corporate, government, developmental sectors, and most importantly, the youth.

This approach necessitates collaboration from diverse sectors of the economy while also minimizing the burden of sacrosanct interventions in fiscal and policy adjustments. Furthermore, it recognizes the vital importance of youth participation. It allows their unique perspectives, innovative ideas, and lived experiences to be incorporated into solutions and strategies. By actively involving young individuals, we empower them to take ownership of their future, fostering a sense of agency and responsibility.

In essence, unemployment’s impact on young people goes far beyond what meets the eye. Many of these consequences are endured silently, as the crisis weighs heavily on their shoulders. It is an undeniable truth that this crisis is deeply rooted in inequality. However, within that knowledge lies the opportunity to take small, meaningful steps toward improving the lives of countless vulnerable individuals. Who can say that these actions won’t have a profound, positive ripple effect? With a collective mindset, we can weave a tapestry of support, ensuring that no young person gets left behind.



Wilson, L. (2021, December 13). The Shocking State of Mental Health in South Africa in 2019.

SACAP. https://www.sacap.edu.za/blog/management-leadership/mental-health-south-africa/#:~:text=Aug%2021%2C%202019&text=As%20many%20as%20one%20in,and%20Anxiety%20Group%20(SADAG)

Integrated Youth Development Strategy Stakeholder Consultation Report 2021. (n.d.).


de Witte, H., Rothmann, S., & Jackson, L. T. (n.d.). The psychological consequences of unemployment in South Africa. South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences.


World Economic Outlook Databases. IMF. (2019, April 17).



About the author:

Aphelele Mtwecu, is a member of the ACTIVATE! Change Drivers writers hub, a 2016 Activator, am a content writer, activist, and creative.

“My true passion lies in youth development, transformation, and making a meaningful impact. Every day, I encounter the world, seeking healing, innovative solutions, and fresh methods to drive social change on my personal journey. My work and advocacy reflect my unwavering commitment to fostering positive change.”

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