Director's Blog - July 2017: The Demographic Dividend!

Posted by Martin Keat

At the Bishop Simeon Trust we believe strongly in upholding the universal rights of the child. This is not only a notion rooted in noble principle mindful of their immediate protection; it is vital to a better future in South Africa. By investing in the lives of vulnerable children and young people we can create a ‘demographic dividend’ for South Africa - economic growth being one of the consequences of lowering rates of mortality and fertility, there being a strong correlation between this and investments in education, health, gender equality, etc.

Some 38.9% of the population of South Africa is under the age of 19 – that’s a little over 20 million people. It seems clear to me that with such a base young people are uniquely positioned within South African society to deliver this demographic dividend. If properly supported and equipped to use their energy, ideas and skills they have the potential to shape a new and better South Africa. By empowering and equipping young people to access education, their rights, control over their sexual reproductive health, etc. we can create the circumstances in which fertility rates may reduce, mortality decrease, education improve, etc.

For those of you who follow the news from South Africa it is also fair to say that the nation stands at a crossroads. After a period of political turmoil, whatever happens next, it would seem clear that the government needs to reconnect with the people. However, one of the issues I have noted during my time working in South Africa is the relative weakness of civil society, i.e. those non-state organisations and institutions that represent the interests and will of citizens that are much needed to be able to deliver this connection.

This is not an issue unique to South Africa, but may be seen as a consequence of the specific history of the nation. Under the abhorrent Apartheid system civil society was effectively illegal – where the majority were treated as subjects rather than citizens. With the advent of freedom many of the those who constituted the underground civil society of the struggle were appropriated by the new democratic state. With hindsight this was not unreasonable, but it did leave a vacuum between the state and communities that remains to be populated.

This combination of circumstance is why our peer education work with young people is so very important in this very moment. As well as providing young people with the opportunity to set the agenda for their support we are enabling them to strengthen civil society on their terms and by so doing equipping them to take the lead connecting their communities to the state. In this way we can help them to become healthy, resilient, confident and engaged citizens fully aware of their rights who can contribute to the next important phase in the development of democracy in South Africa. And what we should not forget is that this will lead to benefits for all of South Africa, not just children and young people. That is a huge dividend for everyone.

All of this depends on us being able to maintain support to our community partners. This is a huge part of our role here in the UK and much of our time is spent securing those vital resources, as well as advising and supporting our friends in South Africa. We’ll be sharing our annual impact report in the coming weeks and I hope that you’ll be as delighted as we are with what we have been able to achieve in South Africa in 2016/17. Each child or young person we support is a life transformed and a future improved.

We cannot do this without your support though. Thankyou so much to you if you have already joined us and support this important work. I would ask that you please share our message with others, it will help us to build the support that we need to continue until we are no longer needed. If you do not already support us then please consider joining – you can find out more about how you can do so here. Collaboration is a central value for us - we welcome contact and new ideas about how we can secure the funds we need to maintain and build the support we provide.

The future of South Africa is in the hands of its children, together we can help them to make sure that it is a good one.

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A big part of our work here at the Bishop Simeon trust is committed to assuring that children and young adults in South Africa are able to challenge and conquer those obstacles in their lives that prevent them from accessing education and assuring that they can  make the most of the potential they possess to thrive and build a positive future.