SA produces too little and consumes too much, and while its financial and societal woes are inextricably linked to a tragic political and exploitative economic history, the harsh reality is that our political leadership is perpetuating this state of affairs.

The vast majority of our youth, through no fault of their own, are destined to a life of unrelenting hard labour at best, or being unemployable at worst.

The unemployment pandemic is at record levels, and as things stand the forgotten masses have no chance of finding gainful employment owing to the toxic cocktail of hopelessly inadequate education and unrealistic expectations mixed with government, labour and business being unable to find common ground.

In the third decade of democracy our greatest assets should be a youthful population and our natural resources. But, through dishonesty and myopic intransigence, our leadership has contrived to severely damage the concept of certainty, which is the vital ingredient for general business confidence and particularly for large corporate investment.

Entrepreneurial spirit, business acumen and capital are the key ingredients for job creation and these … are mobile and in short supply

The real tragedy for the vast majority of those born post 1994 is that the continued provision of hopelessly substandard secondary education continues the legacy of abuse of human capital, where a previous political dispensation exploited unskilled black labour and created the unsavoury brand of capitalism we know today.

Every year, as 1.3-million "dumbed down" school leavers enter the job market with almost no prospect of finding meaningful employment, the politicians calm the disaffected with a mixture of lies and propaganda by drawing attention away from the state’s complete failure to provide quality secondary education and offer false hope by focusing public attention on the disparate concepts of job creation, free tertiary education, the fourth industrial revolution and the national minimum wage.

"Job creation" is a figment of the imaginations of politicians who have never themselves employed people, which is best illustrated by the lies of Trevor Manuel and Jacob Zuma back in 2009, when they claimed that 500,000 jobs would be created the same year and promised that poverty would be halved by 2014.

Jobs do not get created — they are a by-product of a social compact in which government provides high quality and accessible secondary education as the bare minimum of empowering tools for its citizens, and delivers an environment of certainty to business, which attracts capital investment.

Based on the government’s policies, business confidently invests on the basis of future returns and employs and further upskills citizens, so as to realise its objectives, as well as the ambitions of employees. Organised labour plays an equally important part in ensuring the development as well as the protection of its constituents.

This troika must be committed to working together, failing which there will be systemic failure, as evidenced by the current situation in SA.

Although free tertiary education for students in households below a certain income median should be a right, the fact remains that a majority of all students graduating from tertiary institutions will be unemployable owing to course choices that are light on scientific subjects, which are critical for a developing economy such as SA’s, whose focus should be on the production of goods and services.

Compounding the problem is that schooling has been dumbed down to such an extent that vast swathes of our school-leavers are functionally innumerate and illiterate, as illustrated by the absence of maths in their curricula and where language comprehension, even in the mother tongue, is diabolical at best. It is cheap talk to speak of free tertiary education when we are unable to provide the elementary requirements of schooling, such as acceptable classrooms and ablutions, quality teachers and required schoolbooks and teaching aids to the vast majority of schoolchildren.

Political propaganda and distraction is created by the notion that we must capitalise on the imminent fourth industrial revolution which, from a South African perspective, is purely academic. Millions of our citizens in rural and peri-urban areas sit somewhere between the first and second industrial revolutions, defined by steam mechanisation, electricity and more modern types of communication, and are a long way from the third industrial revolution.

Only a tiny percentage of South Africans will ever embrace the fourth industrial revolution. Ironically, the beneficiaries of this revolution will be sections of established capital, as opposed to the majority of our population.

For government to proffer the fourth industrial revolution as the panacea for the plight of the unemployed in SA is a bald-faced lie. Our unskilled and uneducated population militates against any chance of an economic leap that might catapult the country from the second into the fourth industrial revolution.

While R20 an hour is not even close to what should be acceptable as a minimum wage, the subject of productivity and its correlation with a minimum wage is conveniently overlooked by both labour and government. If the vast majority of our youth are so disempowered through the abject failure of our schooling system that they are unable to even grasp elementary concepts such as rates of production per minute/hour, how will they be able to comprehend their responsibilities as employees, or hopefully as future business owners?

Gross domestic product (GDP) is a reliable measure of output of a country and it is telling that a small country such as Denmark has a GDP greater than that of SA, notwithstanding Denmark having a population one tenth of the size of SA’s and having no natural resources to speak of.

The key differentiator for Denmark is its well-educated and productive workforce, which allows for a minimum monthly wage of R47,000.

SA’s time bomb of youth unemployment sits at more than 65%, with no prospect of improvement. For blue-collar workers employed by large corporates, the situation is as bleak owing to increasing automation, off-shore relocation of production and technological advancement.

As de-industrialisation occurs before their eyes, government and labour continue to debate noble concepts such as minimum wages, which become increasingly irrelevant in the face of declining employment opportunities.

SA will never defeat unemployment if our leadership does not acknowledge that:

• Even at low rand wage rates per hour, there is declining demand for our unskilled and semi-skilled labour, which is unproductive, uncompetitive and overpriced for world markets.

• The majority of the unemployed (especially the youth) are "unemployable" due to their lack of basic skills, inferior education and the unrealistic perceptions they have of their own value to potential employers.

• Meaningful new blue-collar job opportunities will only come from small and medium enterprises (SMEs), whose scale of production or provision of services is less automated, resulting in a greater dependency on labour.

• Small and medium business owners usually work shoulder to shoulder with their employees, which results in a skills transfer that can assist in overcoming the limited educational opportunities of their employees.

• Successful SMEs are heavily reliant on labour and it is in the interests of SMEs to look after their most valuable asset, which is their staff.

• The inability of SMEs with workforces of fewer than 200 employees to easily fire employees who are disruptive in the workplace — continual absenteeism being a good example — without long and involved hearings and counselling processes, is a massive disincentive for employers to give new jobseekers a "chance". These businesses, like the larger corporates, are being forced to automate wherever possible.

• The only hope for the unskilled is to find employment in SMEs, and as things stand, there is a massive disincentive for these SMEs to offer employment positions.

Entrepreneurial spirit, business acumen and capital are the key ingredients for job creation and these ingredients are internationally mobile and in short supply. They are urgently needed by SA and its unemployed, where the focus, like it was in Asia, should be to first develop elementary production into more sophisticated versions, with the logical progression being an eventual technological economy.

Just as apartheid constitutes a crime against humanity, the complete inability of a democratically elected government to provide a quality secondary education for the majority of our youth represents a crime. It is the greatest inhibitor of a level playing field where our citizens can have the freedom to dream, but more importantly, to be suitably equipped to be able to realise their dreams.

• Bagraim, MP, a labour lawyer, is DA labour spokesman. Mantell is an accountant who runs a biscuit factory.