12 October 2019 / 13 Saffar 1441
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BUDGET 2019: COUNTING ON YOUTH INVESTMENT
An open letter to Finance Minister, Mr Tito Mboweni, on the eve of his budget speech
Dear Honourable Minister
SINCE 1994, the eve of democracy, we have become familiar with the Nguni term ‘ubuntu’. Brought into the national narrative by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the word essentially means that ‘we are who we are through others’. In other words, we are who we are through our humanity.
Indeed, ubuntu expresses the very notion of socialisation after three hundred years of colonialism, and four decades of apartheid. It means that as a diverse society, we are part of a cohesive whole. It means that if one part hurts, the other part should hurt too.
Ubuntu, then, represents a world view that does not look at the colour, creed or class of a person. The president’s call, via the song of the late Hugh Masekela, ‘thumma mina’ (send me) has to be understood in the spirit of ubuntu, which is selflessness and sacrifice. It is this that empowers and enriches the human spirit.
We write to you as the South African National Zakah Fund (SANZAF), a Muslim NPO that has been serving the community for 45 years. The focus of SANZAF is to execute a pillar of faith called Zakah. Zakah is the ‘purifying’ of accumulated surplus wealth. In other words, those who qualify must give 2.5 per cent annually to the poor.
As a vehicle engaging with projects such as bursaries, skills training and relief, Zakah is a vital tool in eradicating poverty and positively empowering the unemployed and the underprivileged.
No, Mr Honourable Minister, we are not suggesting a wealth or Zakah tax! All South Africans, despite their financial challenges, are already generous beyond measure. A recent study by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) has revealed that in 2018 a staggering 80 per cent of South Africans had donated money to some worthy cause.
What’s more, the study found that 50 per cent of South Africans would have donated more had they possessed the means. And even more encouragingly, the report revealed that the youth were more likely to volunteer, and held the role NPOs played in high esteem. The report can be accessed here: https://www.thesouthafrican.com/90-south-africans-charity-2018/
Mr Honourable Minister, we know that your budget is going to be a massive task in defining the country’s fiscus. We also know that you will be talking about investment. However, we would like to humbly suggest that you spend some of your time looking at human investment.
So often, we do not acknowledge the riches at our disposal, which is our human capital. Young people in South Africa, in particular, need to be recognised. Their ideas, their out-of-the-box dynamism and their energies must be harnessed.
Mr Honourable Minister, SANZAF started out in 1974 as a response to urgent welfare needs in the Muslim community, needs that the apartheid state had refused to meet. Pertinently, it was established by the Muslim Youth Movement. It was through youthful vision that SANZAF was formed.
In the 1970s SANZAF had to push its one and only vehicle to get it started, but last year it was able to distribute R133 million in bursaries, skills training, upliftment programmes and humanitarian relief from offices in every major centre of the country.
Again, our message is not about saying we are better than anybody. No. It is all about focusing on the nascent skills, the ambition, the dreams and the aspirations of all South Africans, especially the youth. So how exactly do we invest in human capital?
We have found that our bursary scheme – which disbursed nearly R28 million last year – is a starting point for transforming society, as are all other study schemes, if properly monitored. Indeed, it was Madiba who said in 2003 that education was the most powerful weapon we could use to change the world.
We have discovered that the socio-economic impact of a bursary is profound. When beneficiaries qualify, and contribute to the economy through their newly acquired skills, they immediately lift those around them out of poverty.
Mr Honourable Minister, our experience tells us that job-focused, skills-based education has the potential to transform society, and our economy, in a single generation. However, for it to be effective there have to be enabling conditions. The youthful entrepreneur, who is the future of South Africa, has to be able face the challenges.
In this light, we support the president’s focus in SONA on inclusive growth, incubation programmes, development nodes and technically empowering youth in township and rural areas. But government has to play its additional part via incentives, a prompt payment culture, accessible loans and less red-tape.
To quote John Dludlu of the Small Business Institute, we have to invest in human capital because we cannot afford hopelessness to become a national crisis. We simply cannot afford any more lost generations.