Youth unemployment: Opposition slams FS Premier

DA MPL, Karabo Khakhau PHOTO: Free State Legislature/Facebook

Opposition party members in the Free State Legislature accuse Premier Sisi Ntombela of using the Covid-19 pandemic as a scapegoat for the government’s ongoing failure to address chronic unemployment and corruption in the province.

OFM News reports that the DA’s Karabo Khakhau – the youngest member of the Provincial Legislature – gave an impassioned rebuttal on Ntombela’s address on Thursday 4 March in Bloemfontein, saying Free State youth have for the longest time “bathed in unemployment” and criticised Ntombela for not presenting any tangible solutions to combatting the problem in her State of the Province Address (Sopa) which was delivered earlier on in the week. The province is currently facing an unemployment rate of over 34% – excluding discouraged work-seekers.

Khakhau also had some harsh words for Ntombela and her executive regarding the provincial bursary programme, which has long been a source of pride for the provincial government.

“Those who were recipients of bursaries from the Premier’s office are either left stranded on campuses with late payments over their tuition and allowances or come back from abroad after having sweated for their qualifications only to be told their qualifications are not accredited and hold no value.” Khakhau concludes her rebuttal by stating that Free Staters, the youth, in particular, are in fact abandoned by the government.

The plight of students abroad on bursaries of the Free State Government came to national attention when the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020, as many students were left stranded in the Hubei province in China, where the virus was first detected. The situation turned so desperate that anxious parents of bursary recipients were called to a briefing by the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China, Tang Zhongdong, at the President Hotel in Bloemfontein to allay their concerns.

Some of the other issues raised at the time, included the provincial government owing the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) R25 million, resulting in allowances not being paid into student accounts in time, a shortage of masks, as well as allegations that students are not receiving nutritious food. Some of the students ended up boarding a chartered flight from Wuhan City by the South African government in March 2020 – a month after the briefing at the President Hotel. The flight touched down in Polokwane where the passengers were promptly taken to the Ranch Resort which falls under the Protea Hotels. It is yet to be determined how many of them returned back to Wuhan to continue with their studies.

The MEC of Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (Destea), Makalo Mohale, addressed the floor after Khakhau and lauded Ntombela for delivering a people-centred address, which aims to address rampant joblessness and corruption. Mohale says not all of corporate South Africa is committed to transformation and “you cannot blame the ANC government for that”, says Mohale.

He further warned against the notion that the provincial government is using the pandemic as a scapegoat, asking where have you seen a province the size of the Free State availing “R60 million for small, medium enterprises, saving 4000 jobs at the same time”.