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Learnerships in South Africa: The Need for Zero Tolerance for Corrupt and Ineffective Employment Strategies


Anthony DeVilliers | Amandla | 4 November, 2020

As a means to combat the dark scourge of joblessness, the South African government designed a framework for the unemployed to receive training in workplaces. Accordingly training programmes do not constitute employment, rather they are temporary contracts for skills development. They are referred to as learnerships.

Although trainees/learners are not formally employed, contracts allow for them to receive monthly stipends as opposed to traditional salaries or wages. This is necessary, as learnerships just like employment, involve practical expenses, such as transport to and from work, and the need to ensure that people don’t work/train on empty stomachs.

It is critical that learnerships don’t succumb to the trends of exploitation of our capitalist system, such as underpaying and exploitation . If they are not justly and effectively implemented, the potential ramifications pertaining to our capitalist system more broadly, would seem to be too dark to contemplate at the hands of angry masses drained of their patience.

A civil rights group called Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse ( OUTA ), made some startling claims of corruption in learnerships on its website. The organisation claims learners struggle to get their stipends, and Sectoral Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) prove to be plagued with corruption. SETAs are organisations appointed by the government, that oversee the training of the respective industries on the South African market – i.e. the mining industry would have its own SETA, and likewise with the agricultural industry etc.

According to OUTA, SETAs have worked up a history of listing unregistered businesses as ones that are supposed to receive money for learnerships, resulting in funds that are supposed to be for the benefit of trainees/learners being misappropriated. An example given by OUTA was a 2018, R162 million contract of the services SETA, which was consisted of money being allocated to unregistered companies. Learners training under the services SETA, have struggled to get their stipends. If money meant for learners, is allocated to companies that don’t exist in order for it to be stolen, it comes as no surprise that learners have struggled to get what is due to them.  

The South African business community has long since claimed to have lost confidence in the standard of our secondary education. That is why it is of urgent necessity to ensure that people are equipped for jobs and made employable by being practically trained in various fields. Corruption in this very necessary form of education cannot be tolerated. The misappropriation of funds by SETAs, is not conducive to the creation of as many learnerships as possible, as it obviously limits financial capacity for more learnerships. Not only do we need corruption-free learnerships, but we also need the implementation of learnerships on a larger scale.

It needs to be understood just how scary the effects of the coronavirus on our economy are. An academic analysis of these effects called the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) was conducted. The analysis found that 47% of those who were questioned for the survey/analysis, claimed their households ran out of money for food in April 2020. A 15 July 2020 Daily Maverick article that reported on the analysis (“The day the bottom fell out of South Africa – a triple pandemic has hit us”), suggested that this amount of people that ran short of food since doubled. According to Stats SA, in the 2020 second quarter, on an annualised, seasonally adjusted basis, GDP in the second quarter fell by 51%.  Momentum Investments claimed it is unlikely that the economy will return to what it was before the 2023/24 financial year. Other forecasts including from the The United Nations Development Programme estimate that it would take 5 years for the economy to get back to how it was before the pandemic.

Even before the pandemic was expected, the economy was already in a frightening state. It was affected by Eskom, mounting government debt, drought, poor investment status, a decrease in revenue because of joblessness, looting of state enterprises due to corruption, and a decline in consumer spending. It was estimated by African Development Bank that South Africa’s real GDP growth for 2019 was only 0.7%. Additionally, before expectations of the COVID-19 crisis, the forecast for South Africa’s economic growth for 2020 by the World Bank was just a dismal 0.9%. How much more of a dangerous situation are we currently in?

History has shown that to deny people their education rights is to play with fire, as education is associated with hope and promise of better quality of life, more specifically liberation from poverty.

The unemployed cannot reasonably be expected to participate in learnerships without being able to pay relevant transport costs and without sustaining themselves and their families. Learnerships without stipends, renders learnerships for many, unworthwhile and this is absolutely understandable. This is because as it would appear, education is one of the few glimmers of hope for many of our nation’s impoverished. The ANC government should realise that it has provoked anger and impatience drastically and cannot afford to do so further, by allowing inappropriate and insufficient learnership implementation. People’s impatience with poverty before the pandemic, exploded with violent xenophobia, violent service delivery protestation and stoning/petrol bombing vehicles in Cape Town. How much more is the potential for anger manifestation now, what kind of ticking time bomb could we be sitting on?

In Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) trainees who were, part of a learnership funded by the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) of the Department of Labour, project managed by Walter Sisulu University (WSU) were at the end of their tether because of their monthly R2000 stipends repeatedly not being received. These learners were contracted to train in Plant Production, Animal Production and New Venture Creation. WSU claimed that it could not pay the stipends because it had not received the necessary funds from the UIF. One of the learners, Sinethemba Mbane, of the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM), expressed his dismay regarding this situation. Speaking in his capacity as a learner, he said “people need to eat, they need to clothe themselves. These are hard economic times and learners desperately need to get what is rightfully theirs.”

The crushing effects of capitalism are aggravated by corona-related, economic turmoil and now is the time to sharpen people – our youth especially – by equipping them with skills. Trade unions and civil society organisations must unite in demanding learnerships on a larger scale, and learnerships free of corruption and maladministration. It is vital that learnerships are void of misappropriation of money, for the availability of funds for more learnerships. The need for massive scale peaceful protest and strike action cannot be undermined. Extensive dialogue between trade unions, civil-society, companies and government for the creation and implementation of such learnerships, particularly in the green economy, must materialise. This holds potential for a national economic boost, as businesses and corporations stand to benefit from increased human resources at their service – this is the nature of learnerships.

Anthony de Villiers passionately seeks to promote the revolution through commentary, he is opposed to neo-liberalism. His email address is
Posted in Amandla
One comment on “Learnerships in South Africa: The Need for Zero Tolerance for Corrupt and Ineffective Employment Strategies
  1. Tebogo Eager Baitsile says:

    I am working at Ubereats under the lulaway’s fleet. They also enrolled us in a learnership that Pay’s us R3600 per month. But now Lulway deducts R900 per week in our weekly earnings to make up the R3600 we get from the learnership funding. Is that ethical or even legal for lulaway to make us payback the learnership stipends we get every month.

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