The recent questioning of Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu on the age restricting criteria for free public housing is ill-considered and out of context.

South Africa is a country rich in natural resources but equally rich in human resources. As a country we are experiencing a youth bulge where approximately 41.2% of our population are youth between the ages of 14 and 35 which contributes to swelling the working population relative to the dependent population. A larger working-age youth population means that we should be able to derive significant socio-economic benefits as consumption should be lower than production. However we are unable to accrue such demographic dividends as 36% of the working-age youth population is unemployed. It therefore becomes imperative to invest all our resources, energies and efforts into educating, skilling and employing youth and not giving them free houses. Allowing youth below the age of 35 to access free housing will only create further dependency and negate efforts at national development and building a productive youth population.

The Minister is correct to argue that priority must be given to the elderly but priority should also be given to the creation of opportunities for youth. Youth are hungry for opportunities to derive their own income and build or buy their own houses but more effort needs to go into creating such opportunities for the millions of youth in need.

Currently the Department of Human Settlements implements a YouthBuild Infrastructure Development Programme in partnership with the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA). This programme enrolls thousands of youth across the country to build and maintain community amenities and RDP houses. These young people are involved in a YouthBuild programme for the period of one year and then receive certified training in brick-laying, carpentry and plumbing. Many youth exit this programme and gain employment as artisans while others start their own businesses.

The NYDA contributes R14 million into this programme while the Department of Human Settlements contributes a further R16 million to a partnership that helps to empower young people with valuable skills development.

Last year 3 788 young people participated in the YouthBuild programme. The aim should be to have more youth participating in such programmes that help deliver housing as a basic need while receiving the necessary training to be productive members of society. In June of this year, 76 houses were built by hundreds of youth and handed over to the community of Lindelani in the Northern Cape. Dorothy Moseki was one young person who participated in the programme and helped to build her own house. Her parents passed away in 2008 and 2009 respectively. After the passing of her parents, she unfortunately had to move out of the family house and relocate to Lindelani. Dorothy now lives with her four-year-old daughter and cousin in a house built by young people.

Youth development involves the enlargement of opportunities and not the creation of dependencies. As the NYDA we therefore endorse the age restrictions on qualifying for free public housing but we call on the Ministry to invest more resources into the YouthBuild Infrastructure Development Programme where young people are building houses for themselves and receiving training as artisans.

Issued by Yershen Pillay (NYDA Executive Chairperson)