5 cities, one topic, one conversation: May Exchange

Saturday, 31 May 2014 has become quite a special day on the ACTIVATE! calendar to date. For the first time, we managed to host three ACTIVATE! Exchanges on one day, in three cities. Activators in Mpumalanga and the Free State added their voice to the #ActivateExchange conversation at their own events.

The topic of discussion, public accountability, is at the heart of making sure what our obligations are as citizens, particularly as young leaders contributing to change in various spheres. The Exchanges brought together young people, civil society, business and government leaders in one room discussing how this topic affects them and what they can practically do to contribute meaningfully towards public accountability. Ashley Roman, ACTIVATE! trainer, summarises this very well when he says, ‘new ways have to be found in which communities engaged with government, and hold them accountable.’

The main questions framing the dialogue were: “How can young South Africans hold public representatives accountable to secure effective governance and build a better South Africa? “ and “What can be done to support these young people?”.

 The sentiment across the conversations in the different cities was, It is not just a citizens’ right to interact with the correct channels in government to ensure we are respected as contributors to the future of our county, and to know how to hold government accountable, but an undisputable obligation. The guests also reflected on the context of using the vote as a means of taking responsibility and making votes count by keeping track of government performance, our own contributions as means of claiming our obligation and being proactive.

More than 1345 posts were generated on Twitter and Facebook across the different cities. This platform has proven to be quite powerful as a means of  expanding the reach of conversations.

These Exchanges provide more than just dialogue, they are an opportunity for young South Africans to connect with thought leaders. Activators are encouraged to arrange their own Exchanges to bring these thought-provoking conversations right into their communities.

Reflections from the various Exchanges can be read here:

The ACTIVATE! team is also ready gearing up for the next Exchange which will be taking place on 23 August 2014 on the topic of Identity and Leadership. 

What makes a good leader?

The present generation of young people in South Africa has a responsibility, as “tomorrows’ leaders”, to re-write a narrative that is different from what existed before 1994. Young people are faced with a challenge of evolving a South Africa that is more open and more just, where people have equal access to basic needs – with equal opportunity to live, work and learn, and where the rule of law holds sway in the fullest sense. Ultimately, to influence change within the current context, young people must first recognise and seize the opportunities that a liberal democracy affords them. They need to become active and responsible citizens who are committed to their communities. 

For young people to be able to participate meaningfully in the dispensation, and eventually succeed in leadership roles – where they are entrusted with state responsibilities, it is critical that they first become the change that they envisage. Theymust adopt character traits that can improve their personal growth and consequently effect impactful change across the country. Against this backdrop, the rest of this opinion piece looks at some of the essential character traits that young people must embrace or aspire to in order to effect lasting change in South Africa.

Interest to participate in public and community life

Young citizens should have, as a character trait, the interest to participate in public and community life. They must see themselves as social citizens with a group identity and rights; sense of belonging and interest for the pursuit of the common good rather than individual interests. This implies that at the community level they must exert their rights and enforce accountability of their elected representatives. Participation in activities such as volunteering at community centres, which foster community-building, is an essential attribute that many a young person should have. Young citizens should participate in community events, for example ward committee and IDP forum meetings taking place in their constituencies to make their voices heard. By exercising citizenship through participation in public and community life, young people are exposed to processes that deepen their knowledge and understanding of municipal procedures; in effect they discover how their communities are governed and who their leaders are. This experience is important for young people to effectively engage and contribute to community development. 

Get into the habit of learning and education 

Interest in learning and education is perhaps the most important trait that any young person should embrace. We live in a world where technology has taken root in almost every facet of our existence which calls for more effective education. This development continues to impact our lives in many ways. People have lost their jobs, while many others are unable to get jobs due to lack of requisite education to provide them with the necessary knowledge and skills they need to adapt to the changing circumstances of the 21st century. Arguably, lack of education is among the many factors responsible for the high rate of youth unemployment in South Africa. Many young people seeking jobs often do not have sufficient employable skills. It is thus crucial that young people develop keen interest for learning and education. They must take advantage of the education and learning opportunities that are now available to them.

However, they can only achieve this if they endeavour to ensure that learning and education become an integral attribute of their character.            

Personal responsibility and self – discipline

Personal responsibility and self-discipline are important character attributes that can transform young people into better and more responsible active citizens. Young citizens ought to take responsibility for their actions, have a sense of discipline and conform to the values, morals and laws that govern behaviour in our society.  When young people begin to take personal responsibility for their actions, some of the implications are; they do what is socially acceptable and right, such as practicing safe sex, restraining from violence, alcohol, drug/ or substance abuse, school absenteeism, and all manner of social vices. They do not lend themselves to corruption nor any form of deviant behaviour, instead they make good choices and conduct themselves in line with accepted principles.    

Commitment and resilience

Staying committed and resilient to a course is a major determinant of success of the course. It is an attribute that resonates with many successful people, including those who have made significant strides in academics, business and politics. If Nelson Mandela and his entourage in the African National Congress (ANC) had failed to remain committed and resilient to the course of freedom, during apartheid, South Africa would still be grappling with the challenge of toppling a regime that systematically marginalised majority citizens. Young people who have made decisions to pursue university degrees can only achieve this objective if they are committed and resilient to this course. Commitment and resilience are thus essential character traits that could elevate many young people and help them achieve their objectives.        

Be innovative and challenge themselves to implement strategies to end youth unemployment

Innovation, translated in this context as doing things differently or implementing ideas that transcend conventional ways (creativity) for the purpose of achieving positive results, is another essential attribute that could enable young people to make impactful change in society. If young people became more innovative and challenged themselves to implement their ideas, they will not only become self-sufficient through creating jobs for themselves, but also contribute to end youth unemployment in the country. Young people should think outside the lines and look for unconventional solutions every time they encounter a challenge. By focusing on how it can be done instead of why it cannot be done, young people may be surprised by how creative/ innovative they can become if they continuously strive to do so.       


Although the character traits discussed above may not be exhaustive, they are, nonetheless, important attributes that young people from across South Africa could embrace in order to bring about enduring change in their communities. In addition to these attributes, it is vital for young people to develop positive self-esteem and identity about themselves.

Youth Month vs Youth Development

The month of June in South Africa is dedicated to young people. In 1976, on June 16, young people mobilised themselves and changed South Africa. Through this action, young people proved that they are a powerful force.

As much as we celebrate youth month and the impact the young people of 1976 made in South Africa, youth development is still a problem in SA, particularly in rural Eastern Cape. The Department of Provincial and Local Government defines youth development as: a process in which young people are engaged so that they can acquire social, physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual and economic skills, knowledge and attitudes to enable them to (i) meet their personal and social needs, (ii) take up adult roles effectively, (iii) become well-rounded and productive members of their society and immediate communities. One aspect I want to raise, particularly in rural Eastern Cape, is: Access to Information and Resources. Young people in rural areas do not have access to the National Youth Services and the National Youth Development Agency. A number of social forces (i.e. unemployment, poorly resourced schools and poverty) have changed both the landscape of family and community life and the expectations for young people.

 Today’s world has become increasingly complex, technical, and multi-cultural, placing new and challenging demands on young people in terms of education, training, and the social and emotional skills needed in a highly competitive environment.

This year, our leaders and the media have created an atmosphere of excitement and thrill that more young people are in Parliament. But will this bring change to the challenge of youth development? Development from the top won’t have an impact at the bottom. In fact by employing a few individuals does not mean our leaders are addressing youth development. They are just creating jobs for a few. An alarming number of young people are in townships and rural areas. Living in these places is a challenge because young people do not have access to information and resources.

Start youth development from the bottom, today. Youth Development should be taken as the ‘top-bottom’ approach. Our political organisations say ‘the branch is the basic unit of the organisation. The branches make the policies’. That approach must be applied to youth development as well. Local Government is the first and the most prominent position for young people to develop. Let us see young people take an active role in local governance. Our local leaders, the Ward Councillors, must co-opt young people into ward committees. If there are no young people in ward committees, young people need to mobilise and demand their rightful roles in local governance.  Adopt programs and strategies at local government that will see every municipal council in South Africa made up young people (at least half the council).

There is still lack of participation by young people in the decision-making processes of the municipalities e.g. Integrated Development Plans. Most municipalities do not understand the NYS programme, therefore lack of implementation. The Department of Provincial and Local Government conducted a ‘baseline research on youth development at local level’. Out of 283 municipalities, only 56 municipalities responded to the study. Expanded Public Work Programmes are the most popular programme being implemented by municipalities.

All municipalities should establish a policy on youth development. Municipalities need to put together a youth council that will deliberate on priorities for youth development locally. Municipalities need to convene annual youth summits before the end each financial year. The youth policies on youth development, youth councils are all in legislation already. Youth summits should be compulsory to all municipalities.

Now is the time when young people are afforded the opportunity to acquire the attitudes, competencies and social skills that will see them take up the roles of Councillors and Mayors in 2016. Young people cannot acquire these competencies and attitudes themselves. Local Government (i.e. municipalities, cooperative governance and traditional affairs, the department of provincial and local governance), the NYDA and the private sector must put all of their hands on deck and accelerate the mainstreaming of youth development. Young people need to stand up and claim their rightful roles in government. In Gauteng and Western Cape, especially Johannesburg and Cape Town municipalities, there are youth councils. Why can’t we have them in other municipalities?

Anda Gqamane is a first year activator from Dutywa, Eastern.  He is currently Chief Operations Officer at Imbasa Community Services, a registered Non-Profit Organisation dedicated to both in-school and out-of-school youth in the rural village of Esikhobeni A/A.

How can young people bring about meaning change in their communities?

This was the topic for discussion as hundreds of young people, across South Africa took part in a dialogue hosted by ACTIVATE! as means of cultivating an active citizenry after South Africa’s fifth elections.

Those who could not attend any of the sessions hosted in South Africa’s three major cities – Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, participated in the conversation through twitter posts which were aggregated using simple hashtags: #ActivateExchange. 

In Cape Town, more than 100 young citizens were hosted at the Newlands Cricket Stadium, not for a game of cricket, but to discuss and debate the ways in which citizens could become more active, and hold those in power to account. 

Ashley Roman, one of the facilitators of the Cape Town event, said the dialogue also sought to broaden the array of tools for those already working in their communities.

“These young people are already doing amazing work in their communities, they’re running their own projects. What we want to do is to broaden the platform for engagement, what are the possible tools, discussions, mechanisms and new knowledge that we can hold and infuse into our work when we go back our communities,” said Roman.

The dialogue was also seeking to steer these communities away from violent “service delivery” protests which they often used to air their grievances.

Roman said new ways had to be found in which communities engaged with government, and held them accountable.

Section27’s Thoko Madonko said although South Africa had very progressive laws, whose constitution was hailed across the world, spaces for public dialogue were still being closed down.

“We’re one of the world leaders, we have very progressive laws but we have poor implementation. Part of that implementation is a challenge, it’s a struggle,” said Madonko.

She said community activists had to up their game in the face authorities which operated in a secretive manner to hide wrongdoing.

“Many organisations and social movements are beginning to see that you have to shift, you have to play the game differently. The opponents are changing, Marikana was a huge game-changer,” said Madonko.

She said mineworkers in the Platinum Belt, through a protracted strike had taken ownership of their space.

Madonko said injuries, inflicted upon communities by unresponsive corporates and government authorities, were happening in very subtle and often difficult ways to articulate.

These injuries came in the way of which communities received resources like bus rapid transit systems and the ways in which their public schools were funded.

Former Cape Town International Convention Centre chief executive Rashid Toefy said the role of business in public accountability was to understand that ultimately it was good for them to be ethical.

“We must encourage young people to do what they’re passionate about, and that’s how they will become activists,” said Toefy.

But in the same breath, he said institutions like the Public Protector, and public accounts committees were often abused by losing bidders to settle scores.

Under his leadership, he said he had promoted ethical practise within the CTICC by encouraging a culture of whistleblowing.

“If you see something, report it. [But] you can’t start ethics in a cold way, inform [your staff] of what you are about,” said Toefy.

Activator Dean Jates who launched peace garden initiative in his community of Bonteheuwel called on religious organisations to become more involved in their communities, outside of the spiritual realm.

Photo exhibition: Protest against the self

On my way to the photo exhibition, a drunken man with a foul smell sat opposite me in the train. He had marked his territory with his smell and in so doing had also isolated himself from the rest of the commuters. Before settling down on his sit, he walked around, appearing to be wandering around with no purpose. The way he slouched on the seat gave the impression that he would have preferred if he had been lying down on the floor on his back. The man appeared as if that was all he did, drank and took trains, to what pleasure, only he knows. Some song or another played from his phone, entertaining a few train commuters and angering a few. I think about this when Dean Jates, who had organised a street exhibition that he was hosting in Bonteheuwel, next to the train station, says to me “The media perpetuates stereotypes about us. No newspaper says we are good people. This project is to prove that wrong”. I realised then the man did not only drink and take trains.

The exhibition forms part of a project that occurs in different platforms that he has been running since 2012. The project is not one of those opportunistic foreign-funded initiatives that set camp in a township and does not care whether they make a change or not. What he wants to achieve more than anything else is for people in Bonteheuwel where he grew up to take pride in themselves and not be brainwashed by media that all they are drug dealers and gangsters.

The project does not operate on a big scale. The few photographs, of different sizes, colour grades, and frames lay on small ground. Kids of all ages hunched over the photographs, recognising themselves from a years ago, denying how little they have changed.

The pictures were from an earlier event “Gooi I tafel”, an event that Dean hosted a year ago. In that event, he had mobilised the community of Bonteheuwel to build a table. He never knew what the table was for and looking at on the day of the exhibition, the table still standing there, he still did not know. The event was never about the table to begin with. The table was simply a catalyst for him to get people to work together as a community. During the process, the community had to find harmony or else the table would have uneven legs. His ideas to initiate change are not grand and they do not seem practical at first glance but listen to him explain them and you begin to understand that when his project is complete, all the elements implemented, the people of Bonteheuwel that do not believe anything good about themselves will begin to believe that they are worth something.

“The exhibition is a protest against self” says Dean whilst the rest of the community gets about the festivities of the day. A boy disguising a beer with a black plastic cycles past the exhibition. He comes back again, this time, carrying nothing. He later comes back and thanks Dean for organising the event. This is the gradual step that Dean is hoping to achieve. That the boy would have joined the event and participated would have been the rapid change that Dean does not expect and with it carries the excitement that would not last. That the boy saw the good work is the beginning of a community that is beginning to cleanse itself. The boy was beginning to protest against himself, as Dean had put it.

“This is not mine. This is ours. We must all look after it. We must take ownership” Dean says, opening the exhibition.

He reads from a book that was put together by Emile from Heal the Hood Foundation. The book is a collection of essays, short stories, photographs, graffiti, rhymes, drawings and letters. The book was put together because Emile, like Dean, was fed up of seeing despondent communities who had given up on themselves.

In the introduction of the book, Emile writes that he had gone to a school and asked all the black kids to put up their hands and none of the coloured kids put up their hands because they did not think they were black.

The book and the projects that Dean organises do do not exist to redefine the coloured community. Redefining is a condescending view. They have always been like any other society, fraught with both excitement and struggle; they have always been misunderstood.

Dean also began a newspaper to give the community a voice. Proving that he is not confined to being a critic of the wrong representation of the coloured community. A newspaper that, he explained to me, is not concerned with the frivolity of correct grammar and beautiful design but it is concerned with content. “If the story of the people is told. I am happy. Grammar is not my concern” he said. In addition to this, Dean is also in the process of organising drama, film, dance, photography workshops at the Lydia Williams Center in District Six. There he aims to mentor kids from the township and give them workshops.

“I too am not working” Dean explains to ease my anxiety about how much money he needs to do all of these projects. “You will never do anything if you are waiting for money” He says and is convinced of it.

Dean’s plan to inspire the community of Bonteheuwel and other communities to protests against self is targeting stereotypical representation even in music. “What is AKA saying anyway?”. Nothing”. A rhetorical question followed by an aphoristic answer. Dean holds the view that the youth of Bonteheuwel does not need music that has been passed as cool. He says that they have their own musicians that speak about what is happening in the community in not a condescending manner.

Dean’s obsession with reverting stereotypes that have been for many years now, stretching back from Apartheid into the new South Africa, been perpetuated by mainstream media fuels his very existence. When I interviewed him I got the sense that the passionate character he was in the interview is the same person that he is everyday. This is his reality and not something that wears when he it suits him.

The community’s reaction to the exhibition was interesting to witness. Only a few gathered to view the pictures. The majority peeped through windows and walked past so they can have a look. A group of teen boys gathered at a corner next to the exhibition and then disappeared without ever coming close. The music playing from the PA system was not interested in manipulating anyone to join the exhibition either. The onus is on you to make that decision.  

On the day of the photo exhibition, a notice board was unveiled. The notice board hung on the wire separating Bonteheuwel from the train station. It is not fancy and it does not have to.

“Is the notice board to give us jobs?” asked a woman standing on the other side of the road.

Her question is followed by chuckles but when Dean was done answering her, the chuckle turned into something more powerful, the realisation that we can do this. His response was nothing high breed or theoretical. He told them that the notice board will be used for people to write whatever they want to write, from job, internship, inspiration messages and community notices.

Dean’s exhibition and the installation of the notice board are not, at least to me, eternal ideas. Their physical presence is meant to exist and if they are gone, that does not spell out their failure. The success of the exhibition and the projects before it is that they remain in the community members’ memories. A memory that will, when mainstream media paints the community as gangsters and drug dealers, sprout up into existence and dismiss those newspapers as nonsense and nothing more.

Having lived all his life in Bonteheuwel, 33-year old Dean Jates says his activism not only seeks to transform the area, but also the residents.

The exhibition took place on a garden that Dean had created in 2012. There are no veggies growing there now but that is not the success of it. Its success is that now, unlike before, nobody is dumping rubbish there. Before it was a garden, everyone used to dump rubbish there, endangering the health of the residents. But now old men and women, when the sun is hot with no wind flapping about, rest their loins on their chairs, reminisce about old days or simply not think at all.

It was late when the kids dispersed from the exhibition. After the formal proceedings, they sat and mingled with the elders, staring at the photographs.

Dean’s next plan is to turn the small garden where the exhibition was into a big garden. One that will feed the community.

Facilitator Nqaba on Bush Radio

Be28 Sets Out to Make a Habit of Success

The Be28 initiative, based on the principle that positive behavior can be established by 28 days of repetition, has taken up the challenge of developing a nation of good habits.

Founded by Activators Tshepiso Phakedi, Tshepang Mokgatla and Elcin Botha and launched officially in Johannesburg earlier this month, Be28 aims to encourage young people to adopt success-orientated habitual behavior by providing leadership development, access to motivational speakers as well as to social media-based networking and thought-sharing at regular think tank events, says Mokgatla.

The event attended by fellow Activator Linda Simelane of  Eldos FM 87.6, Dineo Mahao, the co-founder of NGO, Each One Help One and life coach Xoliswa Moraka, also served to announce Mdumela Media’s sponsorship of a website and corporate branding design for the initiative as well as the unveiling of the Be28 branded clothing range that will include T-shirts, sweat shirts and snap back caps.

Be28 was placed among the top ten social entrepreneurship projects featured at the annual Activate! Showcase in January this year by fellow Activators. The initiative will be piloted in Johannesburg initially with a view to a national roll-out during the course of 2014.

Contact details:

Facebook: Be28 Movement or www.facebook.com/movementbe28

Twitter: @Be28Movement

Email: be28movement@gmail.com

Activators on Talk Radio 702

Five Star Sky Project Explained

Activators on Vibe FM

Inspiring stories, inspiring women

Ayanda Cokoto, 28, says she has found more joy in her community activism than her nine-to-five job as a Human Resource practitioner.

Her mother moved the family out of Khayelitsha in the mid-1990s, “when crime got a bit too much”.

Unusual for the time, Ayanda’s mother who is a nurse, bought a house in the traditional Afrikaans neighbourhood of Kraaifontein located in Cape Town’s northern suburbs.

On an overcast Saturday Ayanda finds herself on the Cape Flats, specifically the Lavender Hill neighbourhood, to encourage women tell their own stories of strength through adversity.

Their host for the day is Lucinda Evans who started an NGO, Philisa Abafazi Bethu (Heal Our Women), which works mostly in the impoverished Lavender Hill and surrounding informal settlements.

Woman Zone, the organisation with which Ayanda is involved, was being hosted by Philisa Abafazi Bethu, while the day’s events were documented by acclaimed radio host Nancy Richards.

Women from the community, along with those who work there, and some visiting for the day were treated to inspirational stories, songs and laughter while acknowledging that a lot of work was required to empower women.

Evans, a former trade unionist, says her move to start Phila Abafazi Bethu was motivated by angry feelings she had for her former boss. Listening to other women’s stories helped her to get over her anger.

In a small bungalow, at the back of her house, Evans and her volunteers run motivational workshops for the area’s children and women.

Ayanda says her community activism was prompted by her own experiences after finishing matric.

“I finished matric in 2003, the very next day I was in my first job while there are other kids who were struggling,” says Ayanda.

She then went on to do a learnership, and even after that experience she still was unclear about her future plans.

“There was no one to tell me, if you want to be a psychologist ‘this is how you go about it’. I was just drifting on and then in 2006 I decided to study tourism …I love being with people, I love to talk and this seemed like the right space [for me],” says Ayanda.

After her first year of study, she owed the university R23 000 along with the costs of accommodation.

“My mother said no, ‘I’m not going through this again, either make another plan, or study nursing’. She had been a nurse for around 30 years, and told me there was no other profession which would suit me,” says Ayanda.

Her mother insisted on nursing, but also gave her the option of studying human resources. Ayanda chose the latter.

Ayanda says: “I didn’t know what it was, I went to apply and I was accepted but my Head of Department wanted to know why I had left tourism because I was getting distinctions. I did HR for the first year and realised that it’s not too bad, I could apply it across the board.”

For the next few years, she would struggle to pay her school fees. And her mother had to take out personal loans to pay off Ayanda’s student debt.

“I wouldn’t like other youngsters to struggle the way in which I struggled,” says Ayanda.

She has started career expos, targeting specifically township youngsters, by exposing them to opportunities in the tertiary and job market.

Ayanda and her partners at Woman Zone host a series of monthly inspirational talks under the banner of The 13 Series about being a woman in Cape Town. 

Introducing the network

ACTIVATE! a network of young change-makers across South Africa who are finding innovative ways to transform our communities and the country as a whole. We are doing this by thinking outside the box for innovative and effective solutions to some of our toughest challenges. To understand the power of the network watch this video.