It is said that 1% of the worlds’ richest OWN 90% of the wealth in the world. This is the tragic reality of our time, but what I do know is that our network of 2000 plus young leaders who are driving change in the communities of South Africa is going to CHANGE this world; 67 minutes and beyond.
The commemoration of former President Nelson Mandela’s legacy of nation building in the month of July further reinforces our commitment to carry the baton forward of being at the forefront of addressing issues that affect us as youth and add our own footprints on the road to a future worthy of our longing.
Having said that; young people have continued to struggle to find the need and avenues for effective participation within local government outside of the party political spectrum, placing the bulk of implementation and decision-making around key youth and service delivery issues in the hands of what has lately come to be known as a ‘corrupt and unresponsive government’.
This is what led us to put a call out to the network in July 2016 for a 50-strong group of Activators from all the nine provinces to serve as local government champions in our successful and growing Youth Making Local Government Work Advocacy Campaign. Our motto and objective are: Youth Matter and have the power and vital role to play in building this country; and ours is to empower and capacitate them to speak for themselves as agents of change and gain access to decision making platforms in spaces that they influence.
Our first intervention was our participation in the 2016 local government elections as observers to ensure free and fair elections; receive training from the IEC and conduct community civic engagement sessions to encourage youth to vote and stand as councilors themselves; two activators Bheka Ntuli from Nelson Mandela Municipality and Rudzani from Limpopo were successful in their campaigns and now serve as councilors in their wards. We plan to encourage more youth to do the same in 2021.
In the words of Motsatsi Mmola who campaigned as an independent candidate: “Seeing my picture on the ballot paper showed me that anything is possible and I have never looked back. Now I am on my way to Kenya for six months to learn new skills that I will use to better my community when I come back.”
The result was a resounding success with the group growing from 50 to 87; and real time reporting taking place in voting stations reaching over 482 000 people on the day through social media.
Equally, engagement between government representatives and young people is largely prevalent around election time, but falls away soon after, reinforcing the stereotypes around the power (or lack) that a vote has. In keeping up the momentum of the campaign, our local government agents continue to conduct councilor engagements as part of a longer term accountability campaign to hold public servants to the commitments made and to find avenues of collaboration in realising the common vision of moving young people from disadvantaged communities from one level of development to another.
Some of the members in the campaign also formed part of the Walala Wasala TV programme which profiled young people doing great works to address community issues in local government. The programme played over 13 weeks on SABC 1.
This in addition to our Youth Making Local Government Work Facebook page which continues to serve as an inspiration and information dissemination platform of the great works that have continued to be undertaken by our champions in their communities with both the network and the public at large. Coverage in both local and mainstream media has also helped to add credibility to our work and spread the message.
I can say with certainty that the mission that we have taken on as the collective to highlight new and existing opportunities for young people to define the next wave of democracy and development in South Africa is definitely not an easy task: access to physical and human resources; including funding to reach the deeper rural areas continue to be a challenge; including the majority of councilors we have tried to interact with who are not open to transparency and partnerships to working with young people. One other major obstacle is the mind set shift and the breaking down of negative stereotypes that still needs to take place amongst the growing numbers of apathetic and despondent youth who find themselves unemployed and susceptible to social ills and parenthood at an early age and given up on their dreams and passions.
Our future plans include collaborations with the national Department of Cooperative Governance who are willing to support us in upscaling and replicating the work already begun nationally; including the creation of spaces through their newly launched local government forum for young people to participate in partnership with key stakeholders that address youth and community issues such as SALGA and NYDA. In the forum launch they allocated us a space on the panel with the deputy minister to speak on youth leadership based on our experience in the sector.
Civics Association is also keen to sponsor future community engagements with the group and work with us to tailor content on civic education, simplifying policy documents for youth and to support us to grow our observer campaign in the lead up to the 2019 elections.
We are also looking forward to formalize our relationship with the Youth Directorate in the Gauteng Office of the Premier to participate in the training of their youth focal points who are responsible for the implementation of youth development programmes within their respective functions in the province. This will be a great shared learning space and opportunity to share best practices in delivering services to marginalised youth.
Working together, a bright future is inevitable and it is never too late to take on the baton in the selfless service of others for the public good; 67 minutes at a time.
What is very clear is that we CANNOT and SHOULD NOT do it alone. The state of the nation and building it is the responsibility of all who dwell in it: Government; private sector and every single citizen.