SETAs to fund national service: SecDef designate

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Secretary for Defence designate Mpumi Mpofu says the a youth national service programme proposed by defence and military veterans minister Lindiwe Sisulu in her annual budget address earlier this month will be funded mainly by Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) that fall under the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

Business Day newspaper reported yesterday, the programme, which is scheduled to take off next year, will be piloted later in the year with a two-week experimental intake of volunteers. This implies the programme may be different in scope from the current two-year Military Skills Development System that is now employing some 11 000 youths aged between 18 and 24 at a cost of about R1.872 billion a year, or R170 182 per youth,according to the Department of Defence’s Strategic Business Plan.

Defence and Military Veterans minister Lindiwe Sisulu on May 4 proposed the reintroduction of 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 in her May 4 budget vote.

Reaction has been mixed with media commentators largely hostile to the idea and the YCL and others supportive. Sisulu proposed a national service system “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.”

Mpofu told a job summit organised by the Young Communist League military training would be minimal and may come only “at the end,” Business Day added. “The intention was to provide a core of skills allowing the youth to obtain employment while also giving them civic education and instilling patriotism, along with a value system that emphasises the protection of democracy,” the paper added.

Participants would eventually be given priority for entry in the public service. “We’d prefer public servants that have been in the national service than those who have not,” she added. It was envisaged that employers would view the programme as an internship or learnership providing an accredited qualification, but the programme was also meant to give participants skills that would allow them to become entrepreneurs able to explore opportunities in housing provision, among other areas.

Some of the funding will be drawn from the SETAs, while other support would come from envisaged partnerships with, for example, the education and labour departments, she continued. This would take pressure off the over-stretched defence budget which stands at R30.7 billion. SETA training is paid for by the National Skills Fund that receives a 1% tax on the national payroll in terms of the Skills Development Levies Act of 1999. The available budget is not immediately known. Business Report last November said the combined SETA training budget was R16 billion , while Business Day said it was R6 billion. Efficient Group economist Dawie Roodt says he’s inclined to believe the latter.

Mpofu added, according to Business Day, that enabling legislation is expected to be in place by the end of the year, following a summit of stakeholders and academics in September. “This would allow the national service programme to begin in the new financial year.”

The programme would allow the military to make a major intervention at home, Business Day added. Mpofu said national service was in line with the defence force’s mandate to intervene where there was social unrest, “such as in the present conditions of a ‘ticking time bomb’ resulting from widespread youth unemployment. The majority of protesters in recent service delivery protests were young people with ‘no hope and no jobs’,” Business Day said. “Retired teachers and military veterans from different formations would be recruited,” the paper added, presumably to train and supervise the youth. Mpofu said the proposed curriculum would be defined by SA’s history,
developmental agenda and constitutional matters. “But there must be a balance of ideological options.”

Scope

Sisulu’s spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya says about 62 000 youths currently apply every year for the about 5500 posts available. Should national service be introduced, the DoD could swell well over ten times its current 74 800 personnel. Economist Mike Schussler notes that each age cohort is currently about 1.5 million strong, a figure backed by the SA Institute for Race Relations in a recent opinion.

Deputy CEO Frans Cronje says approximately 600 000 teens write matric every year of which approximately two thirds pass. A further half a million pupils drop out of the school system every year. “In total, therefore, approximately one million young people leave South Africa’s schools every year of which only a third have a matric certificate. Approximately 150 000 of these pupils will go on to enrol in tertiary education.
“However, a great number will enter the labour market but will not find a job. Among South Africans aged 15-24 years the unemployment rate was 48.1% in 2009. This rate only counts those young people actively looking for work and not those who have given up looking, or who are studying or travelling or otherwise not interested in working. In total this rate amounted to 1.3 million unemployed young people,” close to Schussler’s figure.

Sisulu has reported a largely positive response to the idea, especially from youth organisations, meaning a large uptake from young people keen at what could be perceived as a last chance at skills training.