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Sihle Zikalala, minister of public works and infrastructure of South Africa, has urged the restructuring of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) not only to generate jobs for the youth but also to help them become skilled enough to start their own businesses.

While addressing the two-day EPWP Phase 5 Indaba held in Pretoria on Tuesday, the minister acknowledged that youth unemployment has been a massive problem in the country and that the COVID-19 pandemic made it worse.

"The South African youth is disproportionately affected, constituting a huge portion of the unemployed youth that feels left out," Zikalala said, as per SA News. "The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) cannot afford to relegate its mandate to be limited to merely reporting on targets than being actively involved itself in creating job opportunities."

The minister said the EPWP, ultimately, must lead to enhanced future employability, self-employment and cooperatives or enterprises that can employ more people.

He explained that the department's goal is beyond employment generation, as it is also concerned with nurturing a skilled, self-reliant populace that contributes constructively to South Africa's socio-economic fabric.

"By integrating NYS [National Youth Service] graduates into these workshops, we aim to foster a culture of continuous learning and hands-on experience, ensuring our youth are not just employable, but are drivers of innovation and change," he added.

The minister also said the "initiative to absorb some of the NYS graduates from the EPWP into the DPWI workshops is thus a cornerstone of this vision."

He then pointed out that some adults in their 40s never had an opportunity to work due to unemployment barriers, noting that the unemployment rate in South Africa is currently 32.6% and recalling that just last month, the United Nations, alongside other organizations, described South Africa's unemployment rate as a "ticking time bomb."

"It is also an invitation to collectively devise funding mechanisms that are not just effective, but sustainable," the minister said further.

Created by the DPWI to help alleviate poverty by providing employment opportunities, the EPWP was approved by the Cabinet for public consultation on Aug. 31, 2022. The program is focused on four sectors, including infrastructure, social, environment and culture and non-state. All governments and state-owned entities are supposed to implement it.

Last month, South African tourism minister Patricia de Lille signed a memorandum of agreement with vacation rental company Airbnb to advance tourism services in the country and help create more job opportunities for South Africans.

Meanwhile, Sindisiwe Chikunga, minister of transport of South Africa, said in August that rebuilding the passenger rail infrastructure would boost local economies by creating job opportunities. The project has so far generated nearly 200 jobs, according to him.