At 41.2% of the total population, young people make up the largest population segment in South Africa at about 20.5 million.
This is the group that has also been at the centre of simmering frustrations and countrywide mass actions, most notably the #MustFall movement and service delivery protests.
What’s clear is that the youth of 2016 is challenging the status quo, Lauren Tracey, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, tells SME South Africa in a recent interview.
“Youth of 2016 is not apathetic. They are taking ownership of their issues and saying things need to change, and not very patiently. They want change and they want it now,” she says.
South Africa’s young people are facing a steep hill, however, dealing with challenges that include poor education and unemployment, often said to be the country’s biggest crisis.
Entrepreneurship has in recent years been touted as the remedy for the massive youth unemployment. But the country’s entrepreneurship levels are alarmingly low, particularly among young people.
The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) revealed in a recent study that South Africa’s rate of entrepreneurial activity is very low for a developing nation – a quarter of that seen in other sub-Saharan African countries.
Stats SA also reports that levels of entrepreneurship among young people, especially young women, are dropping and has declined from 609 000 in 2009 to 543 000 in 2014.
These issues and many others came into particular focus in the month of June.
SME South Africa commemorated #YouthMonth2016 with a series of articles looking at youth entrepreneurship through the eyes of dynamic, high-impact young entrepreneurs. Celebrating their triumphs and sharing their struggles, these entrepreneurs gave us a glimpse into what it takes to be young and successful in Africa.
Here are some insightful quotes they shared with us on their thoughts on entrepreneurship in the country and the continent as well as why the fire in the belly of today’s youth is likely our best chance at solving our most pressing challenges.
CREATING OUR OWN OPPORTUNITIES
”Unemployment in South Africa is increasing, and more young graduates are not finding jobs. The private sector is retrenching jobs and I think it’s up to us young people to come up with solutions and ways of finding jobs. And I think that can only be done through entrepreneurship.” – Elvis Sekhaolelo, founder and MD of Founders@work.
“Opportunity is 50% of any successful venture and it lurks around every corner, you just have to be at the right place, at the right time with the right people.” – Nabil Hamdaoui, cultural player and office manager at Emerging Business Factory.
“Africa has not begun tapping into even a fraction of its true economic power and potential. We are living on the periphery of our greatness. Our tapestry is far greater.” – Hlengiwe Zondo, CEO at African Reflections Group.
“Young people need to start thinking about what the rest of the world needs from South Africa. What local talent or creation or local asset do we have that the rest of the world needs?” – David Gluckman, co-founder and director at Lumkani.
“No matter the size, every business is valid. So get your contracts and business proposals sound. Most startups walk to the negotiating table with dreams and aspirations and leave with bad deals not because they are incapable of better but because their understanding of the business value on the table is misinformed.” – Kariba Moko, partner at Moad Capital.
“As black kids, we didn’t grow up with the culture of being a business owner. If you had a job that’s when you made money. It’s the culture we were brought up with, unlike other races. So now with entrepreneurship being put to the forefront were starting to see more black business owners. Their businesses reflect that black experience and that’s a beautiful thing.” – Lebogang Mohlala, co-founder of Clean Grip Shoe Laundry.
“Youngsters from the township are now able to dream, they are able to reach out to people [internationally] through things like social media. This [has also] had an influence in terms of having young black people’s experiences being commercialised and having their dreams out there.” – Luyanda Mehlomakhulu, co-founder of Clean Grip Shoe Laundry.
“The township market is a very big market and it’s a strong market. There’s a lot of spending power within the township. But a lot of businesses get it wrong because they don’t offer the right service at the right time and a lot of people are sort of ‘reluctant’ to do business with black entrepreneurs because they’ve been bitten in the past.” – Neo Ramaphakela, founder of Seriti sa Basotho.
“(Re)branding of the continent will not only encourage many of us here to begin engaging in intra-Africa trade because our perspective of the continent has changed, but also enhance intra-Africa investment.” – Cindy Pearl Maphumulo<
OBSTACLES ON OUR PATH TO ENTREPRENEURSHIP
“Young people in general, want to get involved. There’s an appetite from young people but there are some factors that discourage this. One of the main challenges is access to funding. Growing up in the Eastern Cape I’ve always wanted to do things but the challenge has always been funding. Although there are opportunities, the environment is not fertile enough for the youth to get into entrepreneurship.” – Luthando Zibeko, founder and chairman of Luthando Zibeko Foundation.
“If you’re young you tend to have a lack of experience. We also have a lot of bureaucracy that we have to deal with. The rules about how you hire and fire in the country can be difficult for people who don’t have an HR department for instance and you don’t have the time to manage these processes adequately.” – Iain Manley
“Often people aren’t encouraged enough by their peers. I didn’t have examples in my environment. Whether it’s family, friends, or business relationships, [we were not accustomed] to the notion of standing in your idea – in your creativity – in essence your own truth to just go out and embark on the adventure. Often you still get told that you need to find employment, work for a boss and get a steady income. While that is great, it’s just that we find today that because of the economic climate we’re in, people have had to find their own source of income.” – Clayton Morar, founder of Clayton Morar Media.
“Young people are not given the right platform. They are not given the power to change things.” – Elvis Sekhaolelo
OUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES – THE AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE
“Unemployment, security, lack of quality education, government bureaucracy and [a need for] mind set transformation.” – Lillian Secelela Madeje, Entrepreneur and co-founder of Ekihya Consulting and Bits and Bytes Annual Tech Conference.
“The biggest challenges are the access to education as well as the sense of identity as a continent. The true strength of the continent is the proportion of youth in its population, however if the youth do not get the right education coupled with the strong sense of belonging to a greater entity which is Africa – the continent will never fully benefit from the assets that such a youth bulge represents.” – Nabil Hamdaoui
“I believe the biggest challenge facing young Africans is attaining economic emancipation. The previous generation fought for and achieved political emancipation but as the current youth of Africa our challenge is to fight for and achieve economic emancipation.” – Mlamuli Mbambo, entrepreneur and financial literacy and entrepreneurship trainer.
SUCCESS IS IN OUR HANDS
“This is our continent and we are the NOW generation not even the future generation and thus we need to get things in order for us to survive and thrive in Mama Afrika.” – Lillian Secelela Madeje
“It’s imperative that we all lend a hand – simply because – together we can do more.” – Hlengiwe Zondo
“The most dramatic changes in any country usually come from the youth because young people have the energy and desire to evoke change.” – Mlamuli Mbambo
“I believe that as young people, we need to be deliberate in trying to solve this. By this I mean, go out of your way beyond what you’ve been taught at school and research other economies, associate yourself with young foreign nationals and use the very same vehicles, such as social media to reach a better understanding. Would you believe me if I told you that the main vehicle used in the creation of the Africa80 book was Whatsapp?
Nothing beats action and we cannot wait and say the government needs to provide this or that in order for me to evolve, I’m not excusing the responsibility of the public sector but how long will you wait?” – Cindy Pearl Maphumulo
“Africa’s [has a high number of] young people. We can choose to prepare this youth for money management or we let them make the same mistakes and try to repair them later. If we can empower the youth with financial acumen, we enable them to make decisions that will lead to financially secure lives.” – Mlamuli Mbambo
THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT
I think South Africa is full of potential and I say this because I find more young people are coming out with more skills and more talent in various disciplines. They have a natural curiosity and I definitely feel that they are more positive than the older generation. They are more fearless. They are more confident. They are more hungry. They’re not too worried about the notion of ‘failing’. They see the positive in everything and I think their ability to imagine success early on and wanting to be successful is often a good thing for creating a successful business. – Clayton Morar
You have a very enthusiastic youth in SA and I think as you would have seen with the #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall movements we have a very active youth. It’s not as bad as people think. I don’t buy into the sentiment that the youth is directionless. [What we need to do is] work with the youth because if we don’t [and we keep them outside of the economy] we’re going to create a youth that is despondent. Look at which group is the most affected by unemployment. – Luthando Zibeko
“They see the positive in everything and I think their ability to imagine success early on is often a good thing for creating a successful business” – Bonolo Mataboge, fashion entrepreneur and founder of Afriblossom.
“More young people are getting educated. Young people are not depending on the state or the private sector to hire them or to give them what they need. They go out and they hustle. People need a paradigm shift [to change] the way they think about their environment and the way they see things. If you see a challenge, come up with a solution for that challenge. I think that is happening but we need more of that.” – Elvis Sekhaolelo
“I think that in some ways in South Africa, because of the political environment [where] we have this government that few people trust and believe in, there’s this kind of attitude [of people feeling that they] have to do things for themselves.
In many other countries people who feel that they are stuck at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder are looking for a government that will give them a handout. In South Africa – I’m sure many people do expect that and they should expect that – but most people being realists have decided that they can’t wait. And they need to do something for themselves.” – Iain Manley
“I’m extremely proud of the #FeesMustFall movement as a thing that young people were able to capture the nation and even capture international attention. From a really well structured organisation, a really strong message and really impressive action and it showed significant leadership and unity across the country in a very coordinated way. If that’s the youth, if that’s the courage and the ability to implement of the youth then I’m very excited to see what those people are going to do in their late twenties and thirties.” – David Gluckman