The NYDA was established to meet the need for a structure to represent the various South African youth formations in parliament. Its mandate is to mainstream all youth issues across the government, civil society and the private sector.


Established in 2008 by an Act of Parliament (Act 54 of 2008), the NYDA is the result of a merger between two erstwhile organisations: the Umsobomvu Youth Fund—a government agency that funded youth-owned enterprises; and the National Youth Commission—a structure tasked with advising the government on youth policy to ensure that government programmes were aligned with its objectives with regard to policy implementation.

“It is the official mouthpiece in the government, for the youth. The NYDA is essentially a one-stop-shop for all youth-related issues,” says Executive Chairperson, Sifiso Mtsweni. It is tasked with ensuring that youth enterprise development takes place by developing and driving youth empowerment initiatives and advising the government on youth-related issues through its advocacy work.

The NYDA’s journey to greatness

The NYDA’s vision is to be a youth-centred organisation that is an activist institution. Accessibility is key to engaging the youth. The NYDA strives to be at the cutting edge of youth development in the country. In keeping with technological advancement, the NYDA is active in cyberspace, with a website, various social media accounts and a recently-launched app. All of the NYDA’s offices are Wi-Fi hotspots to allow young people the freedom to access online services and apply for jobs so as to be active participants in the global Internet space.

The NYDA’s mission is to become a centre of excellence with zero tolerance for laziness. Mtsweni would like to see the right people in the right positions in order to facilitate the realisation of their vision.

The NYDA’s “journey to greatness” is guided by the principles of integrity, honesty, humanity, respect and hard work. “All staff of the NYDA have expressed their shared commitment to these values,” says Mtsweni.

Automation’s impact on labour

Africa is on the eve of the Fourth Industrial Revolution with unprecedented technological advancements set to alter everything about our lives, including our involvement in the global marketplace. In order to adequately respond to the challenges presented by this new business environment, the youth must be educated in technological innovation so as to be able to recognise the opportunities presented when they arise.

South Africa, as a whole, is still a labour-intensive society with low literacy levels, which renders a large portion of the population dependent on labour-related jobs as their primary source of employment. With certain petrol-stations and supermarket chains already implementing automated payment technology systems, the need for labour to fulfil positions such as fuel attendants and cashiers is set to dwindle.

“We are encouraging young people to participate in the ICT sector and make use of the various technological platforms available to them. I would like to see young South Africans become innovators in the ICT sector,” says Mtsweni.

Innovations and development in the ICT sector will affect the way in which work happens. “When people are replaced by machines, there will be an impact, we need to prepare for it so that we will be able to take advantage of it when it happens,” says Mtsweni.

Employment can break the poverty cycle

If we consider that roughly 42% of the population is between 18 and 35 years of age, this indicates that the broader statistic, which includes those under 18 years, would show that young people make up the majority of South Africa’s population. In Mtsweni’s estimation, some 60%.

In other words, the majority of this country’s population is faced with a myriad of socio-economic challenges; the number one challenge being unemployment, which contributes to widespread poverty. “Poverty is a legacy issue. There is not enough being done to address it,” says Mtsweni. Social ills thrive in an impoverished society. The consequent issues such as crime, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, HIV/Aids, child-headed households, a lack of infrastructure and a lack of recreational facilities exacerbate the cycle of poverty making it even more difficult for young people born into these circumstances to escape the cycle.

Access to quality education is the most important path out of poverty. Resourced schools, colleges and universities are essential if we, as a society, are to acknowledge, examine, and address issues of inequality such as the wage gap and the ever-widening fiscal divide between rich and poor in a blatantly unequal economy with a vast percentage of the population operating outside of the formal economy.

“We have identified two major issues that the government must address in its efforts to improve youth employment,” says Mtsweni. Firstly, to remove the experience requirement from entry-level positions, on-the-job training should be sufficient; secondly, to legislate youth employment quotas so that the labour market more accurately represents the country’s demographic. “We want to see deliberate action by the government to address these issues decisively, we believe that this can happen through policy intervention,” he says.

Supporting the local economy through re-industrialisation

Mtsweni would like to see the re-industrialisation of the country and the beneficiation of minerals taking place within our borders. He believes that the local economy has become too reliant on imports whilst the export of raw materials for processing (which are re-imported at a premium further along the value chain) effectively creates jobs, which are sorely needed by South Africans, for other countries.

Mtsweni suggests that more stringent import laws will stimulate the local economy by encouraging innovation, supporting SMMEs, particularly those that are youth-owned, and ensuring that young people become involved in agriculture to the extent that export opportunities become available to them.

Mtsweni feels that the current government procurement practices are not benefitting the youth. He proposes that 35% of the government procurement budget should be spent on procuring goods and services from youth-owned enterprises. “This will ensure that young people become job creators not job seekers and will help prevent the unemployment scourge they face,” he says.

Key programmes

Ongoing advocacy work has laid the necessary foundation for NYDA programmes such as the Solomon Mahlangu Scholarship Fund, which allows academically deserving candidates access to full paid bursaries; the Collins Chabane School for Artisans, which provides youth training in artisanal skills; and a Grant Funding Programme for youth-owned SMMEs.

Mtsweni explains that rather than condemning young entrepreneurs to immediate liability in the form of bank loans, grants are available to youth-owned businesses, particularly in the agriculture and ICT sectors, to stimulate and encourage youth involvement in these sectors.

The National Youth Service Programme is being rolled out during 2018. This programme aims to recruit young people and train them as community builders and by their participation in various programmes to inculcate a sense of discipline at a personal level that will result in acts of service, patriotism and selflessness.

Focus areas

As a development agency, the NYDA recognises that there can be no meaningful economic participation without skills development. As such, there has been a shift away from enterprise finance and more engagement with the youth in various fields, including the creative arts, around bread and butter issues.

Being that there are no government policies that deliberately speak to the young people, Mtsweni vowed to raise issues that will fundamentally change young people’s lives on a practical level. He hopes that by the end of his tenure, the government will have policies in place to make this vision a reality.

“You can’t address economic participation without a skilled youth, you need a skilled youth base so that they can perform better within the economy,” says Mtsweni.

Fight unemployment—employ a graduate

The first-ever youth job summit will be held in March. This will bring together the government, youth organisations, unemployed graduates, companies and industry representatives to establish a dialogue and ascertain the reasons for the failure to employ graduates with the aim of brokering a deal with clear goals and targets between the NYDA and industry.


“We were overjoyed by the announcement by the president that free tertiary education would be provided to academically deserving youths from households where the annual combined household income is less than R 350 000 (more than 90% of matriculants),” says Mtsweni.

Access to higher education has long been an issue with ANC policies dating back to the 1950s recognising the need for the de-commodification of education. “Free higher education is long overdue! Of course we are concerned about social commentary but we are angered by naysayers who appear to wish to keep the economically disadvantaged from improving their lot by the suggestion that access to education for all will negatively impact on the quality of said education. Free tertiary education is effectively the biggest pay-raise for all parents. The greatest beneficiary is the country. Educated people become a skills base,” says Mtsweni.

Every revolution in history has been started by students uprising, it is in the interests of the stability of the country that education is provided so as to create an equal society as we move forward.

Say what you will about President Jacob Zuma, this is one thing that he has delivered. A worthwhile legacy. “We will be celebrating this victory for many years to come,” Mtsweni enthuses.

Executive Chairperson, Sifiso Mtsweni

32-year-old Mtsweni was appointed by President Jacob Zuma in May 2017. He is the third chairperson of this agency, which he regards as still being in its infancy. He has always been a youth activist. As a student, he was the President of the SRC at the then PE Technicon George Campus and also led the South Africa Students Congress.

Mtsweni studied Sports Management, he is a soccer enthusiast and owns a development soccer team. He believes that by getting the youth to participate in sports, they are learning one of life’s most valuable skills: discipline.

Mtsweni serves on ANCYL National structures and ANC Regional political structures. He is fluent in English, Afrikaans, Ndebele, Sepedi, IsiZulu and IsiXhosa. As the face of the NYDA, Mtsweni takes his position seriously as the official spokesperson for the youth.

Mtsweni believes that a leader should have some level of authority, vision and the necessary drive to realise it. He describes his leadership style as decisive, disciplined and honest. “You must be able to inspire people to see things as you see them, leadership is about people,” he says.

Mtsweni is consultative in his approach but once a decision has been taken, there is no turning back. He uses his sporting background to get people to work as a team through his display of self-respect, respect for others and self-discipline.

He has learned that patience with self and others is crucial to effective leadership, “You can’t lead without patience,” he says.

Mtsweni admires those who inspire others with their own success. He regards DJ Sbu as a positive role model. He is inspired by Solomon Mahlangu’s selflessness and courage during the 1976 uprising. He respects Nelson Mandela—the militant, radical freedom fighter who was willing to sacrifice everything in service of his vision of a better South Africa for all. 

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