Putting the Youth at the Centre


Addressing One Young World delegates from 190 countries of the world in Johannesburg on October 5, 2013, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela expressed a worrying regret; “You are building a world that we should have built for you.”

Indeed, a sad truth that stills claws onto our reality – a fight she and so many others gave so many of their years to, today seems to be written out of history and what remain are the ills borne out of rampant capitalism, reckless corporatisation and (in South Africa) the brutal colonial apartheid system.

Judging by the attendance figures, the summit was a reverberating success.

More than 1 200 young people together with businesspeople, media houses and observers attended the summit.

The founders of this organisation, Kate Robertson and David Jones, maintain it is from this One Young World Platform that “…young leaders start to lead”.

The summit brought well-known figures Richard Branson, Kofi Annan, Bob Geldof and others to be councillors to the delegates. 

After the summit, delegates graduate to become ambassadors and are sent back to their respective countries to inspire others and become agents of change. Ambassadors initiate projects to address problems in education, youth unemployment, human rights abuses, and poverty and to advocate for sustainable development.

Overall, the summit was a phenomenal production and a great experience.

However, I found it to be too generalised and therefore deficient in some aspects.

It simply did not have the right focus on topical issues. For example, in a plenary session on “development aid”, I would have preferred that salient policies of Breton Woods Institutes (IMF and World Bank) be isolated, broken down, analysed and critiqued.

Under education, it would have been a bonus if young people could draw up their own policies and charters and present them.

Moreover, a real starting point would be one from which young people could contextualise and address historical problems in areas such as land ownership and agrarian reform and tackle in the form of dialogue powerful and rich bureaucracies that have hijacked our kindness.

These are those that administer the West’s aid and then deliver it to the poor of the Third World in a process that Bob Geldof once described as “a perversion of the act of human generosity” in a 1987 interview with South Magazine.

Foreign aid – now worth more than US$60 billion a year – has changed the shape of the world in which we live and had a profound impact on all our thinking.

Consciously or unconsciously, we view many critical global problems through lenses provided by the aid industry. 

In tribal society it is the dexterous dodging of real issues that allows the rainmakers to stay in business although they don’t make the rain; likewise in Western public-spending the same tricks of the trade ensure that huge sums of money continued to be transferred to aid organisations that seldom – if ever – produce any tangible results.

Despite the “policy rethinks” and expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, there is little evidence to prove that the poor of the Third World have actually benefitted.

Back home, where the education system does not adequately prepare young people for the labour market, we need to diversify our focus from academia to vocational training.

Technical training, which should be the backbone of any modern society, will ensure a reliable stream of technically skilled staff. This will undoubtedly lessen the pressure of unemployment.

In conjunction with the Ministry for Agriculture and Land, the Land Bank, Southern African Development Bank, Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa, and agricultural faculties, we need to develop a strategy on how to enforce a system of responsible and effective land restitution and agrarian reform.

This will not only ensure food security, address abject poverty but it will return dignity back to the majority of the people.

A nation that can feed itself is a nation that can sustain itself.

There is a need for faster economic growth and within that, ready access to a more equitable allocation of resources.

The government must realise the need to stimulate new small business ventures; to spread the burden of taxation so as to not penalise initiative, to promote the development of an indigenous technology, and to reduce unproductive government spending and, with it, inflation.

What we need now is decisive and urgent action.

Most certainly, the One Young World Summit was an important talking point, it is now up to young people to step up as leaders, highlight the issues and strive to address them.

This is the only choice that they have.

Introducing Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to One Young World at the closing ceremony was my highlight of the summit.

Here is the introduction excerpt:

“Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. It is truly a privilege to welcome this guest of honour to One Young World.

“She was one of the first black African medical social workers in South Africa. A good vintage, she is blessed with unparalleled beauty and intellect, charisma and a huge sense of humour.

“A stalwart in the fight against apartheid, she was a leading light during the 1976 Soweto uprisings where the youth unified to take a stand against racist government policies relating to education.

“She continues to live amongst her people in the township of Soweto where her office services the needs of the local communities.

“No story of Nelson Mandela is complete without her.

“One Young World, please stand up and help me welcome a woman in a league of her own – Mrs Winnie Madikizela Mandela!”

• Thato Mmereki is the 24-year old founder of the African Youth Secretariat, an intervention and advocacy youth organisation. He is a One Young World Ambassador and recepient of The Bronze Standard, the International Award for young people awarded by HRH Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh and Nelson R Mandela. You can follow him on Twitter handle @thatommereki, read his blog at onafrikantime.wordpress.com , or contact him at mmereki@gmail.com

October 2013
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