Substance in the Youth

Young people can spur Africa to greater heights

I would like to add substance to articles written and dialogues called for in the name of the youth but which only ever seem to reflect a youth generation in 2013 that cannot think on and debate topical issues in South Africa’s socio-economics and politics.

Recently, I was invited to a youth dialogue by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory to discuss “social cohesion”.

I left that dialogue unimpressed.

Many of the young people I spoke to dubbed the dialogue as “just another discussion with bombastic words”.

I felt that the discussion was being channelled away from the aspirations and issues affecting young people, more specifically previously disadvantaged black South Africans.

I could not figure out what the aim of that discussion was as it had in no way attempted to bring to the fore that which is important when the word youth is thrown around. These platforms should offer more than just known empty phrases – it is just not worth it.

We need funding for our projects; exchange programmes for exposure, more scholarships and sponsored educational programmes for the many without access to such.

The gravity of South Africa’s problems clearly demonstrates that our policies and methods in politics, education and social development are not workable.

As a country we need to move towards a place where the policies adopted and implemented reflect the true aspirations of the marginalised majority and the many economic hurdles that keep them back from being active citizens and participants in the economy.

As founder of the African Youth Secretariat, I would like the youth to steer a constructive discussion based on historical context that addresses the pressing present-day issues affecting us, the young people of South Africa.

The issue of privatised education has to be reviewed and addressed. Privatised education means that education is expensive and unattainable to the black majority who are without resources.

Today, young people between the ages of 15 and 35 make up 70 percent of the 4.5 million people who are unemployed in South Africa.

The biggest contributor to youth unemployment is the education system – it does not adequately prepare young people for the labour market. Inaccessible tertiary institutions will have to bear the brunt for just over 90 percent of unemployed young people who do not have a tertiary qualification.

At the same time, those who qualify are being educated into unemployment.

In moving forward, I believe the solution lies in vocational technical training that should be considered as a solution to the problem of youth unemployment.

In fact, technical training should form the backbone of South Africa as a modern society. 

It should be a national goal to strive, establish and maintain technical education for the youth.

If technical training is not taken up as a policy now, the unemployment rate will continue to rise.

We will witness more manpower constraints and the occupational advancement of black Africans in South Africa and the SADC region will make no progress.

Land reform and agricultural projects remain a historical disadvantage for us, the previously disadvantaged, whose land was taken away through bloodshed and re-taken through legislation by the Native Land Act of 1913.

There are practical steps that can be undertaken to not only return the land to those who are its original owners and want to work it, but would also establish food security for all, eradicate abject poverty and restore dignity.

Such pragmatic agricultural projects should be elaborated and debated, as they would have to be integrated into our educational system. This would be an additional debate, which would add value and currency to our new South Africa.

We need a thorough review of our development strategies to meet the looming needs of the present and the future.

Shaka Sisulu – a columnist for City Press, a member of the newly-appointed ANC Youth League task team and a figure promoted by the corporate mainstream media as a youth leader- wrote an online opinion piece for the City Press dated August 19, 2013.

The article titled “Growing Pains: Can we get rid of our racial tags?” attempts to talk about the economic participation of the black majority lacks the substance expected from someone clothed in society’s glory and accolades.

The opinion piece was at best a childhood parable with no point and at worst a risky dabble in racial and economic politics that he clearly does not understand.

We would like to see youth leaders who add to our substance and advocate for the real aspirations of the marginalised youth.

We need youth leaders who seek first to name and address the socio-economic issues that hold us back from realising our potential and place as beneficiaries of our birthrights, future leaders and participants in the economy of our land.

What we do not need are institutionalised and nominated celebrities and so-called media personalities who hog the spotlight but add nothing to our efforts as young people. In fact, they could even be useful in misleading the youth.

In Shaka Sisulu’s case, we are really expecting qualified and well-researched input that makes sense and is aligned with the struggle of the African youth.

Given his name and the struggle background of his family we expect more from him above and beyond his non-starter input at the Clinton Foundation’s Global Talk podium and many such platforms available to him.


• Thato S Mmereki is the 24-year-old founder of the African Youth Secretariat, a Johannesburg-based advocacy and intervention youth organisation. He is studying towards a BA Degree (International Relations) at Witwatersrand University in South Africa and writes for Namibia’s national newspaper, New Era. You can follow him on Twitter handle @thatommereki, and read his blog at

September 2013
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