‘What is leadership?’ This is the question a group of youngsters from some of Cape Town’s townships sought to answer as they spent a Saturday morning discussing leadership and the qualities that came with it.

The dialogue was being hosted by Activator Mkhuseli Madiba at the JL Zwane Centre in Gugulethu where about 25 mostly high school-aged youth leaders gathered.  

Explaining the reason for the dialogue, Madiba, who is also an executive member of the Township Youth Movement based at JL Zwane Centre, said that South Africa’s future success will depend on a new crop of leaders. These leaders will need to be cultivated though.

“In the past, South Africa came through different transformations of leadership. There’s so much happening, so many young people doing things,” he said. “This space is for us to converse about what we can do to take South Africa forward. It’s our time now.”

Madiba, along with his members of the Township Youth Movement, are also using the JL Zwane Centre as a hub for youngsters in the township seeking an alternative from mischief, usually after school, and are building up a small library with a few internet terminals.

The organisation is also planning to host a Youth Imbizo where young people will be invited to discuss their challenges and the role that leadership can be used to bridge these obstacles.

“There’s a great gap,” he said. “There’s been a break but there’s been no plan set in place for us to take over. Leadership can’t be given to us, we must take it!”

After introductions, Theophilus Booi, facilitator for the dialogue and fellow Activator whose Mfuleni-based Community Youth Parliament had some members in attendance, divided the youth into five groups. Each group then spent 15 minutes discussing what characterises leadership.

“Leaders get things done”, “…are motivators” and “…are magnets”. These were some of the conclusions that came out of the groups.

Most of the participants had a grasp on the essence of leadership and could recount anecdotes from their communities on the importance of figures who had provided leadership, but as they sat, discussions swiftly moved to not just leadership, but also the challenges facing the communities in which they live.

Asked how his organisation identified the members of the Mfuleni Youth Parliament, Booi said they had sought out youngsters who were already active in their communities.

“Not only leaders, but young people who are eager to create change and advocate for service delivery [in their communities],” said Booi.

Members were also recruited through schools in the area, and Booi said through this effort they had built up relationships with local principals in the Mfuleni area.

Booi is a first year Activator and said that his outreach to schools in the area also served the purpose of recruiting future Activators.

“The ACTIVATE!! platform is a broader platform and gives young people the opportunity to network with other people from around South Africa. That’s why we’re trying to get them involved, they need the type of information that ACTIVATE!! can give them,” he said.

Madiba added that the Township Youth Movement would be holding monthly sessions with Cape Town youth to discuss a variety of issues which specifically affect them.

“We want to bring youth together from different parts of Cape Town to express their needs and their wants and what should be done. We’ll be working with them if they have ideas and connect them with people who have resources and can assist in bringing our visions to life,” he said.

Originally from Limpopo, but having lived in both Johannesburg and Cape Town, Madiba studied at Tsiba Education and said that it was during a trip to Canada in 2011 as part of an exchange programme that his eyes were opened.

“Travelling to Canada and living in a different community opened my mind. I was intrigued by so many people there who were disadvantaged. Who was their voice?” he said.

While Canada is relatively well-off for its citizens, Madiba said the conditions there were bad for the poorest members of its society.

His experience in Canada prompted him to get involved in international and youth development.

Madiba acknowledged that most youth development is championed by politicians for their own ends.

“There are many doing something [in their communities] but we are all separated. The Youth Imbizo is a space for connecting us and working together to make a much more powerful impact,” he said.

Through collaboration and activism, Madiba said the young people of South Africa can bring about change, and not only through politics.

“My passion is in Gugulethu. I have adopted this community and work is mostly in the townships which were created to oppress people. We do have opportunities, how we make them work is what I’m trying to find out.”

Championing the African Youth Charter

“Understanding the Economic and Political Landscape of Africa” was the theme for the recent African Youth Charter Summit (AYCS) hosted by Zayrah in Magaliesberg, South Africa. Zayrah is a youth led development agency focusing on socio-economic development in fragile states. Young Africans gathered to reflect on the status quo of the Charter in their countries, share experiences and chart a way forward for youth’s meaningful contribution towards full realisation of the Charter.

The African Youth Charter is a political and legally-binging framework which provides a strategic direction for youth empowerment and development activities at continental, regional and national levels the continent. The Charter was adopted in Gambia on 2 July 2006. The Charter is in line with the African Union Commission (AUC)’s efforts to provide an avenue for effective youth participation in development process and is part of the efforts to implement the AUC’s Strategic Plan (2004-2007),The Charter aims to touch on pertinent issues that affect youth in the continent.

The discussions were framed around the reality many of the young people in the room were experiencing. One of these realities is the existence of national youth policies to guide countries. This is covered under Article 12 of the Charter, which calls on AU member states to develop cross sectoral policies and programmes, which take into consideration the inter-relatedness of the needs of youth. South Africa has signed and ratified the Charter and has a national youth policy in place. However, it’s efficacy and how far-reaching it is when it comes to transforming the lives of South African youth is another issue. Botswana, as a case in point, was one of the first African countries to introduce a youth policy in 1996 yet, their government has yet to sign or ratify the Youth Charter. While on the other hand, a country like Tanzania has ratified the charter, it has placed reservations on certain articles.

As part of its effort to fulfil Article 14 which provides for Poverty Eradication and Socio-economic Integration of Youth, youth from Zimbabwe presented an overview of the land reform of 2000. A bold decision taken by their government to fulfil a promise made to its people in 1980. The Ministry of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment is a government ministry, responsible for youth issues and economic empowerment in Zimbabwe. Through the indigenisation process many young people are able to access land which is slowly translating to some economic activity. Further to this, in pursuit of a new trajectory of accelerated economic growth and wealth creation, Government has formulated a new plan known as the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim Asset): October 2013-December 2018.

As much as the AYCS Summit looked at creating awareness around the Charter as a whole, quite some debate was dedicated to Article 26 in line with Zayrah’s objective of ‘obtaining strong commitment from and young people to popularise the Charter’ and alignment of delegates’ their organizational policies. This Article details the responsibilities youth have towards themselves, their communities and the continent. It provides for participation in policy making, governance and voting.

While the Charter is a legally-binding framework. Its enforcement still remains a challenge. Getting the required signatures at the domestic level requires quite a lot of time and effort and this has a direct implication on the realisation of the Charter’s legal obligations at the international level.

The African Union is composed of fifty two republics and two kingdoms. Only, 36 member states have ratified and deposited the Charter, these countries include South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe,Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and others while three have not signed – Botswana, Eritrea and Somalia. Once a state ratifies a treaty, the ratification remains effective unless it is withdrawn or revoked. Those who have ratified are in a position to actually work towards implementing the charter, while the remainder have merely signed or abstained, a decision which affects millions of young people in these countries.

For AU, failure of any Member State to comply with any obligation under any instrument of the AU attracts sanctions that can be economic or political. They include, but not limited to:

  • Sanctions for failure to pay contributions;
  • Sanctions for engaging in unconstitutional change of government;
  • Sanctions for failure to comply with policies.

Therefore, the issues of ratification and implementation are absolutely critical in ensuring any real or tangible changes for youth. There are a number of ways this can be done, i.e., creating youth ministries as in the case of Zimbabwe, establishing structures such as the South African National Youth Commission, national governments must mobilise their people around the visions of the Charter. Regional and continental bodes can contribute by creating an African youth programme of action which can provide practical guidelines for policy makers and youth in the continent.