State of the youth in Cape Town


Although her people no longer face separation by ridiculous laws based on skin colour, the Mother City remains one of the most divided societies on the planet.

While the wealthy 1% buy homes in the lush southern suburbs and swanky apartments along the Atlantic seaboard or in the bustling CBD, the majority live in abject poverty on the outskirts.

The average annual income sits at R57 500 and since most of the city’s workforce has to travel long distances to get to jobs, it can be assumed that a huge percentage of this goes into paying for public transport.

Caught somewhere between being a child and a fully-fledged adult, the youth are a particularly vulnerable segment of the population that needs all the support it can get.

As part of its mandate to conduct research oriented toward policy and practice around major development challenges facing South Africa, the University of Cape Town’s Poverty and Inequality Initiative (PII) has a number of projects focusing specifically on young people aged between 15 and 24.

As PII Research Officer, Emily Harris points out, the allocation of resources from government depends heavily on evidence of why certain areas and groups require support and this is what makes the work PII does, so valuable.

“[A] clear message from our colleagues in government was that they needed more fine-grained information on the situation of youth in different communities/suburbs (i.e. at the small area level)”, she explains.

So, PII came up with the idea of creating an online mapping tool that will present this sort of evidence in a strikingly simple visual format, which would be easily accessible to the general public.

Youth Explorer tool

Using the Western Cape as their pilot area, the Youth Explorer map tool was created using 2011 Census data and looks into seven overarching dimensions of youth wellbeing: demographics; education; economic opportunities; family and living environment; poverty; identity, belonging and safety; and health and wellness.

Harris explains that their reason for working with Census data is the fact that it offers an opportunity to drill down to ward level, something sample surveys aren’t able to accurately do.

Census data is also often presented at household level, with a strong focus on adults and children, while information regarding the youth population seems to slip through the cracks. Therefore, by focusing their data representation around this slice of the population, PII is playing an important role in creating opportunities and open conversations that may have been missing before.

One of Youth Explorer’s most fascinating features is the comparison tool, which can be used to highlight the deeply ingrained divides that still plague South African cities.

For instance, when comparing Ward 80 (Philippi) to Ward 62 (including parts of Constantia, Newlands and Bishopscourt), it’s clear to see that youth in the former are up against much larger and more severe challenges than those who call the latter home.

Ward comparisons

YouthExplorer-Comparison_with ward no


In Ward 80, only 33.1% of youth aged 20 – 24 have completed a matric qualification or the equivalent, while this percentage stands at 88.3% in Ward 62.

In Ward 80, 29% of youth drop out of school between grade 10 and matric, while this figure only stands at 5.6% in Ward 62.

In Ward 62, only 9.7% of youth are not in employment, education or training, while this figure stands at a staggering 41.7% in Ward 80.

Apart from educational and employment indicators, these two wards’ experiences of home life and basic services are also vastly different. In Ward 80, 54.4% of youth live in informal dwellings, while the statistics isn’t even considered applicable for Ward 62.

In Ward 62, all households inhabited by youth have flush toilets, while in Ward 80, 27% only have access to chemical, pit latrine or bucket toilets.

Having this data so accessibly presented and readily available to the general public and, more importantly, policy makers could assist in more sensible distribution of resources and fine-tuning of programmes. Furthermore, Harris says Youth Explorer can serve as a powerful advocacy tool for young people to harness themselves when rallying support for projects or services in their communities.

A need for a more positive approach to youth data

She added that their original idea was to focus more on positive youth development data for this project, but that this type of information is practically non-existent.

“The one thing we found – there’s really not a lot of data. Especially not the type of data that we wanted to see. A lot of the data on young people focuses on measuring negative outcomes or undesirable behaviours, so what’s going wrong instead of what’s going right. For example, how many young people are taking drugs, how many teens are falling pregnant etc.

Data like this lends itself to the common view that youth are ‘ticking time bombs’ or ‘problems to be managed’. However, it fails to recognise the strengths and development potential that young people possess and also overlooks the impact of external environments on youth development. There is very little data that focuses on the strengths and assets that young people need to be successful,” she says.

Apart from presenting the available data in this accessible map format, Harris says that PII hopes the Youth Explorer will also highlight these sorts of gaps in research, open up conversations and maybe encourage different and more positive approaches to viewing youth development in the future.

Up until now, Youth Explorer’s information has been limited to the Western Cape, but in celebration of Youth Day, PII will be rolling out the presentation of their national statistics on Friday, 16 June as part of phase two.

Be sure to visit PII’s website for more information and get in touch via email if you have any questions or suggestions.

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