Skhumbuzo Macozoma

It has been 41 years since that fateful year where a legion of young people stood up against a tyrannical government bent on imposing an unjust educational system on them, 1976 the year of my birth. Many a book have been written about that standoff. What strikes me though is that all those young people wanted was access to quality education, which would stand them in good stead in South Africa and the rest of the world.

41 years later we grapple with that very struggle; access to quality education. Oliver Tambo said: “The children of any nation are its future. A country, a movement, a person that does not value its youth and children does not deserve its future.” Words from the mentor I never had. It is this belief that must drive us to fully emancipate our youth and by ensuring access to education and opportunities.

The youth dividend is a point in a country’s history when its economy takes a decisive turn for the better. Economic growth

accelerates as a result of a decline in a country’s mortality and fertility rates. This means that the age structure of the population changes.

Fertility rates in South Africa have declined from 6.4 births per 1 000 women in the Fifties to 2.4 by 2010.

Yet the country may not be able to capitalise fully on the youth dividend because of its poor education and lacking skills development. Added to this is that more than half of the youth – those between 15 and 34 – are unemployed.

To overcome this stumbling block, it behoves all state entities and private businesses to step into the gap. SANRAL is doing so, and on a significant scale with a wide range of interventions. It does so because of its own needs to sustain a high level of competent and well-trained work force and also because there is a dire need in the country for people with mathematics and science skills in their educational background.

I am passionate about youth development, in word and in deed. I am a firm believer that education is a tool that can dismantle poverty and inequality. Today I am CEO of SANRAL, this alone speak volumes on the impact that education can have on one’s life.

SANRAL invests in the skills development of young people in line with the National Development Plan’s 2030 Vision. Since the inception of SANRAL’s bursary programme in 2007, the agency has been very successful in identifying exceptional students from previously disadvantaged communities.

We are also specifically focused on the education of women in the civil engineering and built environment sectors. In 2016, SANRAL awarded 122 bursaries to students at nine universities. This investment of more than R7.5m includes bursaries for 14 postgraduate students who are conducting ground-breaking research in infrastructure development.

We will persist in our endeavour to contribute to the development of young people.

SANRAL backs the Science-for-the-Future programme at the University of the Free State. This comprises the ICT Laboratory Programme which delivers e-education in science and maths to high school students as well as the Family Maths and Science Programme. The latter equips educators to deliver activity-based sessions on maths and science for young learners and their families.

We invest in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Pipeline Project at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. The aim of this programme is to increase the number of learners in and around Port Elizabeth who qualify to study for a degree in a science-related field.

We also sponsor the Chair in Pavement Engineering at the University of Stellenbosch, the Chair in Science, Mathematics and Technology Education at the University of the Free State and the Chair in Transport Planning at the University of Cape Town.

SANRAL awards bursaries to its staff but its emphasis is on external bursaries for higher education and scholarships for high school learners. The intention is not that all who are assisted will eventually work for the roads agency but to grow the number of people who can move into science-related work opportunities.

Numerous SMMEs were awarded contracts worth R3.5bn in 2015 of which almost R2bn went to black-owned businesses. This resulted in 4 120 people, of which more than half were youth, benefiting from skills development programmes.

All of these programmes and initiatives are aimed at upskilling the youth, and growing a sophisticated and transformed workforce in the construction sector. We have embarked on a process to do even more:

Horizon 2030. We will use this year to consult and plan to achieve this goal.

May the sacrifices made by the students of Morris Isaacson High School, Hector Pieterson and innumerable other youth across South Africa not be in vain.

Skhumbuzo Macozoma is the SANRAL CEO