Youth month’s wishful thinking: if only R10 could buy us our dreams

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one euro houses
City eyesores are being renovated by a new youthful population. Image credit: 1eurohouses.com

This June marked the country’s 48th Youth Month and I don’t know about you, but it seemed to have slipped past most of us unnoticed like a ninja in the night, with very few actually taking a moment to observe and appreciate its significance.

I mean, we all saw the Father’s Day status updates with some of our more extra friends flooding our feeds with a never-ending slideshow of family photos set to Luther Vandross’s ‘dance with my father’… but did anyone bother to honour the Youth of 1976? Not really.

Not feeling it

Can you blame them, though? We all acknowledge the magnitude of their sacrifice. We’re just kind of not feeling it in this day and age.

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The global economy seems to have conspired to rob the youth of today right in the middle of the springs and summers of their lives.

In fact, South Africa’s youth is experiencing their coldest winter yet… days before the start of Youth Month, the Reserve Bank announced that the repo rate would remain unchanged, while the City of Tshwane and Joburg confirmed that utility tariffs were going up a notch and Stats SA reported that the unemployment rate in the country increased to 59.70 percent in the first quarter of 2024.

What a way to kick off our supposed month of celebration.

Saw it coming

But South Africa’s youth didn’t exactly flinch at this. They saw it coming.

Actually, they’ve long stopped dreaming about starting their lives, building their careers and living independently. Life has always been just too hard for that.

The youth of ’76 fought for freedom and better education. But I’m pretty sure they didn’t picture this mess.

If a 60-year-old Hector Pieterson was looking down on us from his resting place, would he feel that his sacrifice was worth it? Hard to say.

So few millennials truly feel stable enough to invest in homes for their families and those who managed to do so are struggling to keep the wolf from the door.

Those with skills are fleeing abroad, faster than you can say “brain drain,” while those who remain, battle for scraps in their own homeland against newcomers who think SA’s a step up from wherever they escaped.

How do you even fix all of this?

More than just good intention

The youth of SA need so much more than just well-meaning governmental interventions. They need a proper game-plan. They need a thoroughly thought-out social experiment.

At times like this, I feel we can look abroad to see how other nations are aiding their youth during this global economic slump. And it is Itay’s €1 housing project that fascinates me the most.

How it works: In certain rural towns in Italy, youth faced a scarcity of job opportunities, prompting many to emigrate in search of work abroad.

This exodus left behind landscapes dotted with abandoned and derelict homes as populations dwindled. These houses remained uninhabited for decades on end until cities started to crumble.

In response to this, Italian municipalities devised a unique solution and introduced it through clever marketing: selling these properties for a symbolic one euro each (that’s roughly R20 a pop – excluding additional transfer fees and taxes), on the condition that buyers provide solid plans to renovate and reside in them within the next three years.

In reality, no one was really getting a whole house for R20 but they were definitely getting one for substantially less than the average home. It just came with a major challenge that required the agility and creativity that is innate to the youthful to help solve it.

As such, this initiative had immediately attracted youth from all over the world who set forth to revitalize these once-forgotten houses, bringing new life to these rural communities.

Perhaps this can be something tailored to the youth of South African.

In SA, particularly in the CBDs of major cities, there is a significant issue with hijacked, derelict, and abandoned buildings.

These structures often stand as symbols of neglect and urban decay, contributing to safety concerns and economic stagnation in their surroundings.

Promising solution

A promising solution could draw inspiration from Italy’s one-euro house initiative. The South African government could consider selling these neglected apartments and business blocks (the ones that still have good bones at least) to the country’s youth for a symbolic amount, perhaps as low as R10, under the condition that the new owners renovate the properties within a specified timeframe, such as three months, and commit to residing there or operating a legitimate business of their choosing out of it.

This initiative may not only address the blight of abandoned buildings but also could empower young South Africans by providing them with affordable housing opportunities and stimulating revitalization efforts in urban centers.

I mean, how much better such a programme would work out here, considering labour costs are lower than in Europe and materials are more affordable and readily available.

Hey, it could also foster a sense of ownership, community pride, and economic activity among the youth that they all have been longing for so much.

One of the great side-effects of Italy’s one-euro housing programme, was that it encouraged a number of unemployed individuals still left in the towns to pursue skills in the construction industry which soon boomed after the introduction of the project.

This also helped to somewhat alleviate the issue of youth unemployment too.

This wouldn’t be a bad thing for us either.

SA’s potential

South Africa’s potential in this sort of housing project is unparalleled thanks to the remarkably resourceful, creative, and innovative spirit of its youth.

We can’t deny that they possess the ingenuity to take what might be considered eyesores in urban settings and transform them into not just homes, but awe-inspiring masterpieces.

Let’s be real here, they have a fresh perspectives and imaginative approaches that promise to breathe new life into city landscapes in a way that older generations don’t – that’s what being a youth is all about, right?

With their talent and passion, South Africa can expect nothing short of an extraordinary outcome from something like this.

And I for one look forward to the new theme of Tiktok videos, WhatsApp statuses… and even a new Netflix mega-reno series – the South African edition.

I’m here for those before and after shots, the new business launch party pics and the housewarming reels.

It’s all just a dream for now, but if – for just one euro – the Italians could afford to dream again, then maybe, for ten bucks, we can afford to do so too.

*THIS OPINION PIECE FIRST APPEARED IN THE TSHWANE SUN LATE JUNE 2024 EDITION.

devina@technation.news

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