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The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) joins the rest of government in marking Youth Month during June. Like other departments, the DSI will use the month to raise awareness about opportunities for young people in science, innovation and technology (STI) and to profile young men and women who have achieved success in spite of difficult circumstances.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the 16 June 1976 student uprising in Soweto, when young people protested against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction by the apartheid regime.

The uprising ended tragically, with hundreds of young people being brutally killed or wounded. Following the advent of democracy in 1994, the new democratic government declared 16 June Youth Day, with the month of June becoming Youth Month.

The intention is to honour the contribution of the youth to the struggle for South Africa's liberation. This year, Youth Day and Youth Month are being celebrated under the theme: "The Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke: Growing youth employment for an inclusive and transformed society".

South Africa is fortunate to have a youthful nation. However, the recent statistics on youth unemployment are cause for concern. The Statistics South Africa Labour Force Survey for the fourth quarter of 2020 found that about 8,6 million young people aged between 15 and 34 years are not in education and not in employment.

This situation has been exacerbated by COVID-19. For the second consecutive year, the pandemic has cast a shadow over Youth Month celebrations and had a devastating socio-economic impact on the country. While lockdown levels may have eased, the virus continues to take lives daily and this has had a severe impact on the economy and livelihoods.

To help draw more young people into the economy, the government has initiated various youth development and empowerment initiatives under the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention (PYEI).

These range from formal education and training to learnerships, internships and support for youth entrepreneurship. The intention is to provide the assistance young people need to take on challenges and win.

The DSI is contributing to the Pathway Management Network initiative under the PYEI and the Presidential Employment Stimulus.

Through its entities, the DSI also funds several initiatives aimed at advancing young people in science, technology and innovation. These include the Grassroots Innovation Programme under the Technology Innovation Agency, which is designed to identify and support innovators and inventors who do not have a formal education or access to formal innovation facilities. Through the programme, innovators are linked to the relevant experts and advanced facilities where their innovations/inventions will be further developed to support market entry. They will be able to participate in skills development programmes to understand their subject matter better, and with the entrepreneurship skills and knowledge they need to commercially market their inventions. The programme has a specific focus on women and young people.

Another initiative is the Enviro Champs partnership with Umgeni Water, where young people in KwaZulu-Natal work to tackle sewage and other environmental problems in the area.

Many young people are benefiting from the Department's funding of experiential training programmes at universities.

The Department also funds an extensive internship programme, which places unemployed graduates in science, engineering and technology disciplines, as well as the human and social sciences, at various research performing or research policy institutions. The programme has been running since 2005.

During Youth Month, the Department will profile a number of these initiatives and individuals to provide information and showcase the areas in which young people in STI are excelling.

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