With the nation’s attention on youth issues this week, a new interactive online tool that provides a range of information on the status and wellbeing of South Africa’s young people will be launched on Friday, 16 June.
The Youth Explorer is an tool useful to anyone working in youth development – from national and provincial governments, to civil society organisations implementing policies and programmes in communities – as well as community members and youth themselves.
The Youth Explorer was developed by University of Cape Town researchers at the Poverty and Inequality Initiative (PII), a multi-disciplinary initiative aimed at increasing the university’s collective contribution to tackling major development challenges facing South Africa. It was developed in partnership with OpenUp (formerly Code for South Africa), Statistics South Africa and the Economies of Regions Learning Network.
“Youth development is currently high on the national agenda,” says Professor Murray Leibbrandt, pro vice-chancellor for poverty and I=inequality at the University of Cape Town, and director of the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit.
Government adopted a new National Youth Policy in 2015, and President Jacob Zuma earlier this month has promised to prioritise the implementation of programmes in various departments critical to youth development. A recent Presidential Youth Working Group meeting has assessed efforts that support young people and proposed further actions.
Later this month, the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs will launch the Local Government Youth Development Forum to examine the role of local government in youth development.
“For these and other youth development processes to be effective, a thorough understanding of the situation of the youth population at the community level is essential for the effective design, planning and roll-out of youth services”, explains Emily Harris, the PII researcher who has been driving much of the Youth Explorer project. “Those responsible for implementing policies in local municipalities or communities need clear facts and numbers on the specific needs of young people in the areas where they live. However, such fine-grained information is often hard to come by.”
This information gap will be addressed by the Youth Explorer as it provides easy access to a range of useful detail on young people at different geographic levels, from electoral wards to local municipalities and district municipalities. The online platform presents youth-specific census data using simple charts, maps and other interactive features.
In a country marked by extreme inequalities, the realities of young people vary widely from one geographic space to another. While both national and provincial policies stress the need to understand youth as a heterogeneous group, Dr Ariane De Lannoy, senior researcher at the PII and principal investigator on the Youth Explorer project, explains that such policies rarely engage with the complexity and combination of challenges faced by young people in their particular communities.
“The lived realities of youth living in Soweto, for instance, are not the same as they are in Inanda or Khayelitsha.”
The Youth Explorer will also be a useful tool for communities and young people themselves: it allows for an easy view and understanding of the various challenges youth in their area face, information that can be used in their attempts to hold local governments accountable for delivering the necessary services.
While the online tool currently defines youth as persons aged 15 – 24 years, in line with common international practice, there are plans to include information on youth up to age 35, aligning it with the national youth definition.
To make it work, users simply type in a location, and the Youth Explorer shows you information on crucial aspects of the lives and well-being of young people in that area, such as education, employment, and health.
Users can look at any province, municipality or ward in the country and dig deeper into the various charts. They can easily produce maps that show a spatial perspective of youth outcomes in the area, look for outliers and interesting patterns in the figures, or compare any two areas to see how different socio-economic conditions affect the youth population.

Take for instance, ward 42 in Soweto, Gauteng, and ward 55 in Inanda, KwaZulu-Natal. The Soweto ward has about 4 500 youths aged 15 – 25 years, speaking mainly isiZulu (38%), Xitsonga (14%) or Setswana (14%). The ward located in Inanda contains about 10 000 youths aged 15 – 25 years, of whom the majority speak IsiZulu. In-migration appears to be relatively high in the Soweto ward, with 28% of youth born outside of Gauteng, compared with only 10% of youth in the Inanda ward born outside KwaZulu-Natal.
While both wards have similar youth unemployment rates (60% in Soweto and 59% in Inanda), their educational outcomes are markedly different. For ward 55 in Inanda, only 70% of youth aged 16 – 17 have completed grade 9 or higher, and 53% of 20 – 24-year-olds have completed matric or have a higher educational qualification. In contrast, 87% of youth aged 16 – 17 in ward 42 in Soweto have completed grade 9 or higher, and 62% of 20 – 24-year-olds have completed matric or have a higher educational qualification. The ward in Inanda is also significantly poorer, with 75% of youth living in income-poor households as opposed to 55% in the Soweto ward.
Such insights into how young people’s situations differ across communities can assist in fine-tuning national programmes to align with the actual lived realities of youth in their specific contexts.
Harris says that, while the national and provincial governments regularly collect information on young people for administrative purposes, policy-makers, civil society organisations and researchers often have difficulty in accessing and interpreting such data. “Our goal is to make these rich datasets more accessible and useful to those working in youth development, supporting them to make informed decisions in their programmes and policies, for example about budget allocations for specific youth services.”
Apart from census data, additional data sources for the Western Cape section of the website can be explored to provide a more comprehensive picture of youth and the contexts in which they live. These include administrative data from that province’s education and health departments, as well as from the South African Police Service. Conversations are underway to add similar data for other provinces.
The Youth Explorer builds on a pilot stage that was developed in collaboration with the Western Cape Government and the City of Cape Town, with additional support from the Cape Higher Education Consortium and the DST-NRF Centre for Excellence in Human Development at the University of the Witwatersrand. The portal uses the same technology applied for Wazimap.co.za, which is based on the Census Reporter, and is entirely open source.