Are we waiting for a messiah of sorts, asks Lynette Ntuli

Lynette Ntuli, chief executive officer at Innate Investment Solutions (Pty) Ltd, put the cards squarely on the table last week at the first Activate!Exchange when she spoke about the type of youth leadership that could fill the current vacuum in our country. She later said, “The calibre of the panel members, audiences interactions and even some of the reactions and comments I received post the event made the morning well worth it.”

Her speech, which stimulated some much-need conversations about youth leadership in South Africa, went like this:

“I did not anticipate last week that the news would completely change and influence the angle I was going to take this morning, but we live in interesting times and this week, leadership in South Africa, at various levels, is under pressure and severe scrutiny.

This week the ANC NEC took the decision to disband the executive committee of the most powerful youth movement in South Africa, the ANC Youth League. With 366 000 members spread across approximately 3517 branches, it can be argued that we are about to enter a significant phase in the turning fortunes of our country in terms of defining and delivering upon what credible, educated, dynamic youth leadership should ideally characterise today.

So what? Why does this matter to any of us? The ANC Youth League has perhaps reaped what it’s sown from the anarchy and division it came to represent in the last 2 years in particular. However “We wish them well…” is not likely to cut it as a response this time.

The vacuum of power at the highest level within the ANC Youth League does not just affect the party. It affects everyone under the age of 35 (and the young at heart!) today within our borders, whether you are a card carrying member of the ANC, DA, IFP, COPE youth factions or not.

In the last 5 years the most visible face of young people in South Africa has been that of the former president of the ANC Youth League. Just behind him, the rise of another young political leader in the opposition has also been in the spotlight. And then they have been followed by the rest of us – the founders, leaders in corporate and entrepreneurial South Africa, organisers of causes, social commentators and Twitter activists.

There is a missing face in this picture, a massive group of young South Africans we have not accounted for. The forgotten 85% under the age of 35, stewing in poverty, without access to a brighter future, a 40% level of unemployment for work ready young people under the age of 30, an education system that is not delivering freedom to many of them, who stand without leadership.

A vacancy therefore exists not only in the ANC’s youth corps, but in the leadership of an entire generation.

Poverty, unemployment and a lack of hope and inspiration knows no colour or political affiliation…but it does know a culture of entitlement, it does know the power that can be bestowed by violence and it can learn the inside of prison walls.

Various sources of social and political research and a certain bank’s social campaign in the last 6 months have indicated and highlighted that young people are disaffected, apathetic and disillusioned by the politics of the country. In fact, most political parties can expect that this apathy will result in uncast votes in 2014.

Our existing youth structures and leadership that sit in and close to the seats of power have largely failed to separate social, youth and political issues and in so doing, created untold confusion, have lost a vital connection to the ground and sight to the next decade of the reality of life in South Africa for the average young person.

We live in an age when to be young and to be indifferent can be no longer synonymous. We must prepare for the coming hour. The claims of the future are represented by suffering millions; and the youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity. – Benjamin Disraeli

Young people in South Africa essentially want and aspire to the same things irrespective of their differences. The freedom to live in a safe, vibrant, progressive society and optimise the benefits of democracy, as promised 18 years ago is still a priority to young people. Access to education, basic needs and rights, information and certain livelihoods is the source of both hope and fear in young minds today.

Economic freedom is the struggle of this generation and with the necessary support, knowledge and capability to create wealth, remains within our grasp.And I am not talking about nationalisation – we just want a solid foundation for entrepreneurship and innovation in our lifetime!

What we need to achieve these common goals is Leadership.

Visionary leadership that is not afraid to lead from the front and from the back.
Leadership that is not afraid to work hard and insist upon sweat equity from each of us.
Leadership that will listen, act impartially and take decisions… the tough calls for progress
Leadership that will not be intimidated by new ideas, learned minds and the potential of a society that is driven, literate, numerate and global in its world view.
Leadership that will empower a new breed of leader, that is ready and able to take on the challenges of our country and enable their peers to create solutions in collaborative efforts.
A leader unafraid to share what they have learnt and who is willing to un-learn, re-learn and keep learning again to move us all towards our goals.

It is a tall order and one wonders if we can rely on one visionary, the chosen one to live up to such expectation. What would we do if our candidate stumbles, errs, falls and fails?

Perhaps the alternative to fulfil the overwhelming requirements of this one vacancy, is to engage a council of a few, brilliant young leaders to start with. This council will not be difficult to constitute if we chose wisely, broadly, with merit and with the image of the end in mind. Because do not be mistaken – thousands of young leaders are hard at work, empowering themselves and their communities right now. Our leader is already in these ranks. A star that already twinkles, that just needs a platform to shine.

What we as a country lack is authoritative structures and policy creation processes that legitimately recognise and harness the extraordinary capacity of youth in civic action today. The world is too complex, too large and too frightful a matter for youth to change on their own, but given purpose, opportunities, resources, encouragement – young people can change the tiny fragments of world they find themselves in and are able to influence.

What is the greatest output and priority task against which we will measure the performance of our successful candidate?

The ability to eliminate doubt, debate and distraction around the creation of a purpose driven, post-apartheid, proudly South African identity in young people everywhere.

From this single deliverable, the achievement of the goals of the NDP are perfectly possible but more importantly, the future can lean on a generation that has been set up to succeed.

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