President Jacob Zuma at Wef Africa 2017

The South African narrative needs to be one that makes it attractive to young people so that they are encouraged to help grow the economy, according to President Jacob Zuma.

Zuma was speaking in a wide-ranging exclusive interview with Independent Media at the 27th World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban yesterday.

He said that it was important that government and the media worked together to communicate policy and development so that young people felt more patriotic and enthusiastic about developing South Africa’s economy.

Zuma said that the South African narrative conveyed by the media was sometimes so negative that it often resulted in making the country unattractive to young people.

“You can’t be rubbishing the country all the time. Because you want to criticize an individual, you end up making the whole country look bad,” said Zuma.

Zuma said that government had made tremendous progress in the past 23 years and that it needed to be communicated better to the public. He singled out the progress being made in education where he bemoaned the backlog of quality education caused by institutional racism and the effect it was having on the youth.

Earlier in the day, Zuma said that the continent’s youth was impatient and had made it clear to their leaders that they need to address exclusion, unemployment and poverty.

“For us to move forward, we need that energy, we need that imagination that young people bring,” said Zuma.

He added that the youth was key to growing the economy and therefore youth empowerment needed to be high on the agenda.

“When we speak about empowerment, we are speaking about education. Here again, we are inhibited by our history and institutional racism. There is not enough tertiary institutions for the youth. In some provinces, there was not even a single tertiary institution. To add to this at some point we made a mistake, and we have to admit it. We closed down colleges that empowered young people in a different way because we had a very different way of what we perceived education to be,” said Zuma

He said since then, government had worked tirelessly to address the backlog and had made education an apex priority.

““As government, it sometimes seems as if we are not doing enough but we have done a lot to reverse the backlog. There is now a plan in place. We have made education an apex priority and we will continue to spend a lot of money on it. This shows that we are serious about empowering the youth. So what we are saying is that the youth have an important part to play and this can be achieved by us opening up the economy to everyone,” said Zuma.

The 2017 World Economic Forum on Africa is taking place in Durban under the theme Achieving Inclusive Growth through Responsive and Responsible Leadership. The meeting convenes regional and global leaders from business, government and civil society to explore solutions to create economic opportunities.