February 24, 2024

South32 and Feenix invest in tomorrow’s leaders

4 min read

With as many as one in every three individuals of working age jobless, unemployment remains a major crisis facing our nation – especially for the youth who are disproportionately affected.

A recent Statistics SA Labour Force Survey reveals that most unemployed people in South Africa have education levels below matric, while only 10.6% are graduates, suggesting graduates are much more likely to find good jobs and fulfilling careers.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. This data shows that a trained, qualified and employed population is the cornerstone for building economic prosperity in previously disadvantaged communities. Education is the primary driver for improving employment outcomes among the youth, and a key catalyst for igniting overall economic growth and prosperity.

Aligned in a passionate belief that access to education should not be dependent on wealth, Feenix and South32’s partnership is geared toward democratising higher education in the King Cetshwayo District.

With a strong inclusive culture, South32 places people firmly at the heart of its success. The partnership with Feenix is the latest milestone in a long-standing mission to uplift our communities through high-impact initiatives that improve education outcomes.

“One of our key goals is to make a difference in the lives of our communities, and education is part of our priority projects. An educated generation is important for our country. It’s important for our communities. But more than that, it’s important for the individual who chooses to study,” says vice-president of Operations at South32, Calvin Mkhabela.

“Aimed at the region’s young people who will soon enter the country’s labour force, the bursary programme’s financial support is two-pronged: We settle outstanding student accounts that are preventing students from continuing with their studies; and we repay the historic debt to universities that prevents graduated students from receiving their certificates and qualifications – standard documents required by most reputable employers,” explains Feenix CEO, Cara-Jean Petersen.

“But administrative hurdles, unpaid fees and bureaucratic tape are not the only blockers keeping our youth from completing their degrees and becoming productive contributors to the economy. The reality in South Africa is sobering. According to the latest Feenix Insights and Learning Report, approximately half of all our students struggle to access essential educational resources like textbooks, digital devices and Internet connectivity. Even more tragic is that nearly four in every 10 students grapple with securing even their basic human requirements like food.

“Mental health support – especially to help with stress, anxiety and depression – also repeatedly tops students’ lists of their biggest challenges.      

“One of the drivers behind the South32 bursary programme’s ongoing success is that we’re not only providing financial aid; we’re offering comprehensive student support.

“We sincerely acknowledge South32’s steadfast commitment to uplifting youth in their community. Their comprehensive bursary programme includes providing laptops, food and data vouchers, access to financial literacy training, mental health services and personal development webinars. South32 ensures students’ holistic needs are met. This approach enables students to focus on their studies, thrive at university, and build a foundation for prosperous futures and fulfilling careers. We commend South32 for their dedication to creating positive impacts and contributing to community growth.

“It’s been a privilege to see, in real time, the incredible and tangible impact education can have on a community. Just one year into the initiative, we’re already witnessing its remarkable impacts on the community, with two out of three of the participating students already earning, and almost 40% of them entering the job market within their chosen fields of study; notably in commerce, humanities and law. This speaks to not only the impact of our work but also the extraordinary drive and tenacity these students demonstrate,” adds Petersen. 

“I had outstanding debt of almost R150 000. Most organisations would request my certificate when I would apply for jobs, which I had no access to, as it was withheld by the institution,” explains Nompilo, South32 bursary recipient and now graduate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, echoing a story that has become all too common in South Africa.

“I was lucky enough to receive an internship at the Department of Education in Empangeni. However, I was on the verge of losing out on this opportunity. In August of 2022, I could not believe it when I saw my university fee statement showing that I owed nothing. I only believed it when I saw myself holding both certificates in my hand,” she recounts.

“The Feenix cause is contagious! Despite the challenges many of the South32 programme’s students are selflessly volunteering their own time and energy, to tutor, assist and orient other younger students, guiding them with mentorship, and helping them find a firm footing as they adjust to university life,” Petersen remarks. “One of the South32 students now actually works with an organisation offering computer literacy training to people in underprivileged townships.”

South32 is a committed champion of education in the King Cetshwayo District community, with a proven track record of actively supporting educational initiatives. Having sponsored 47 students to date, South32’s dedication is unwavering.

But the journey continues: Over the next two years, South32 plans to invest a total of R3.5 million, extending its transformative programme to embrace an additional 20 bursary recipients by 2025. The commitment to education is not just a statement – it’s a sustained effort making a lasting impact on the community.

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