Defence and Military Veterans minister Lindiwe Sisulu plans to reintroduce an “unavoidable” system of national service to discipline the youth. “This will not be a compulsory national service, but an unavoidable national service,” Sisulu told Parliament today.
“Having spent a year in this portfolio and having learnt what I have learnt, I am proposing formally through Parliament that the country considers the possibility that in the next year we create National Service where all youth will be gradually absorbed into our training facilities. What we offer is skills that each would be able to build on, we offer training in discipline that which would create a sector, whether public or private, which is firmly grounded in a purposeful sense of tomorrow.
“What we offer is education, in essential respect for each individual and authority: an element you will all agree is not in abundance in our youth,” the minister said. “After due consultation with all necessary stakeholders, we intend to introduce a bill that will provide the necessary legal framework for the creation of National Service.”
Sisulu added that “throughout the world the defence force, that great social equalizer, is used for precisely the purpose for which we propose it should be used for here. Young people are leaving school with no skills and no prospect of being absorbed into a labour market that is already is glutted. Any television footage of service delivery protests will show you that at the forefront of this, in great majority are our youth. With excessive anger and misdirected energy and frustration etched on their faces. We as a country can ill afford this. Our youth are an asset and we must direct them properly.
Sisulu reminded that President Jacob Zuma in his February State of the Nation address that SA is “an extremely youthful country and yet, not investing sufficiently in this future. These are some of the disturbing figures that have emerged: there are more than three million young people who are unemployed, presumably with no prospect whatsoever that they will be absorbed into a labour market that continues to shrink. That 50% of people in the age group 18 to 24 are unemployed.
“History is replete with examples of how turning the youth into a disciplined purposeful force can change the fortunes of a people. Our own history tells how by using the age cohort system, Shaka harnessed the power of youth and changed the face of the subcontinent forever. Every culture known to men has a process of coming of age. This includes some initiation into responsible adulthood, where the line is drawn from childish ways to purposeful, responsible adult behaviour. We can do that for this country, because that is the one thing we need, to build a future for our development and prosperity. A place where the young unemployed can find skills dignity and purpose.
“This could be part of our essential education and in partnership with the Ministers of Higher and Basic Education, we could create a seamless education system between Compulsory Basic Education, National Service, skills training and tertiary education, where access to education is not based on class. The benefits to the youth are enormous, the benefits to society incalculable and for the economy this means a solid bedrock that will sustain our development. Should we find that the idea is one our country and people would want to support, we expect that it would take the next two years to build up the capacity and infrastructure required for the numbers were are faced with.
“I emphasise, this will not be compulsory National Service. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past nor, on the other hand do we want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There has been a concern raised that if we militarise our youth, we are turning them over to society, highly trained to kill and a greater danger than before. We can interrogate this concern and we will hopefully be able to show that this is not the experience of countries with military service and that quite the contrary, the greater danger is caused by people who have no purpose, no discipline and who come across guns that are so readily available in society.