The pessimist in us all waited with baited breath to criticise the Finance Minister and point fingers at the lack of response towards social and economic drivers stifling the growth of South Africa and its future aka our young people. However, the 2010 budget speech by Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, presented what seems like a good balance between economic development imperatives and social services. This not only made the pessimist take a backseat as we listened in anticipation, but caught the attention of at least every NGO, NPO and company striving to uplift the country.
As South Africa’s largest comprehensive national-scale HIV prevention programme, this year’s budget speech was not only of great interest to every loveLife activist, but an indicator of the commitment of the South African government towards a sustainable HIV free future for young people.
We believe that the real drivers of new HIV infections among young South Africans have less to do with a lack of knowledge and awareness of HIV and more to do with a complex interplay among socio-economic factors, societal expectations and pressures as well as an individual sense of hope and outlook on the future.
A comprehensive strategy is needed to address the specifics of the epidemic in South Africa, its resources and infrastructure and the socio-cultural context. It needs to seek to achieve sustained engagement with the first generation of young people growing up in the new South Africa who are exposed to greater benefits and opportunities than their parents, but still face many of the socio-economic legacies of the past such as poverty, unemployment and a lack of social and economic opportunities.
Among young people in particular there is a high association between school leaving and the odds of HIV infection as well as greater risk of infection and unplanned pregnancies among young people who have dropped out of school compared to their same age counterparts who are in school. We also know that young people who feel that they can really “be someone” are less likely to put themselves at risk for HIV. They have a sense of personal opportunity and possibility – that they can make choices for themselves and be part of the mainstream of society.
The new agenda for HIV prevention will have to be cognisant of these factors and focus on achieving a better balance between supply driven approaches (messaging about what to do and condom distribution) and demand driven approaches (building hope and social capital among young people to make them want to change their behaviour).
The new wage subsidy for inexperienced youth announced by the Minister on Wednesday is a creative first step in ensuring that young people have better job prospects and provide them with hope for the future. The sense of limbo they experience when they leave school will be counteracted by real connections to real opportunities.
We furthermore welcome the greater investment in FET colleges to give young people more options and better preparation for school leaving. This will contribute to the reduction of the high school dropout rate from grade 10. It remains a critical priority in building a real and sustainable future for young South Africans.
For now the pessimist has quieted down, but we realise that the success of this budget does not only depend on the extent to which our current administration manages delivery. but also in how civil society and the private sector play their role in ensuring that success.
Together we must create the reality that change is possible and that it requires action that will help young people achieve their goals and enable them to stay free of HIV.
Chief Executive Officer