It’s 43 years since Soweto school children marched for the right to choose to be taught in the language of their choice and were brutally attacked by the Apartheid government, spawning protests nationwide that ushered in a new era of resistance to Apartheid. However, young people today want Youth Day to go beyond the history, to acknowledge their current reality and the struggles they currently face in South Africa.
According to a group of youth leaders from NPO ACTIVATE! Change Drivers, Youth Day on June 16 must not only include conversations acknowledge that struggle and those who died so they could be “born frees” in a democratic South Africa, but must also confront current challenges and needs, that translate into meaningful action to empower their futures.
ACTIVATE! Change Drivers, focuses on empowering the youth of South Africa to create meaningful change in their communities. More than 3,400 youth have been trained as change agents or ‘activators’ by Activate in programmes that include leadership skills, mentorship and access to the Activate network.
Many of the youth within Activate’s network have jobs and an NPO, or a side hustle to try earn a living. Their leadership and entrepreneurial skills are developed by Activate, to help them achieve their dreams and make a difference in their communities. It is this active citizenship that should be a feature of every youth programme and taught in our schools, according to the activators who have been mentored on the programmes.
At a recent gathering of youth leaders in Cape Town, the young activators expressed their frustration with not being heard by today’s political and community leaders, and the insufficient focus on current youth issues around Youth Day celebrations.
Bhongolwethu Neo Sonti, is a young entrepreneur who is part of an NPO focussing on education, who feels that Youth Day is about more than memories. “For me it really needs to represent something bigger than acknowledging the youth population and then moving on. It needs to represent more than that. We continually have these events and these days just for the memories – for me it needs to represent something bigger, than just acknowledging the youth and then moving on.”
Kay-Dee Dineo Mashile, who has left her job to focus on her literacy programmes for women and develop her business, so that she can become an employer one day, believes it is so important to look at the legacy that today’s youth will leave and says the youth cannot wait around for Government to give them aid, but need to empower themselves.
She is passionate about economic freedom and says this is what Government, business and civil society should be focussing on: helping the youth help themselves, to empower them to grow their own businesses and become employers themselves.
This is what Brian Qamata is working towards. He launched chess programmes for the youth in Khayelitsha to get them off the streets and also has a side business selling socks within a collective. His says he found it difficult to visit the Hector Pieterson memorial in Soweto when he lived there. “It brought back bad memories about what the youth went through.
“Today Youth Day should be more about how I contribute to the lives of the young people within my community, the positive impact… You get kids who have never been outside of the townships in their 15 years and they begin idolising the reality around them, like crime and drugs. There’s a lack of mentorship for youth today.”
Ongeziwe Jaca, who began the Activate programme this year, doesn’t like Youth Day. “For me the day focuses more on history. We should focus more on what is happening now, what the youth are doing now, the positive stuff.”
They all agreed that it was time to stop looking backwards and only honouring the past, but to also honour the youth heroes of today: those making a difference in their communities; those overcoming struggles to achieve, those starting businesses and employing others.
“We have youth who are struggling today with so many issues, but all we talk about on Youth Day is Hector Pieterson, when there are youth who are struggling with so much more, like social ills, mental disabilities. That is what Youth Day should embody – the struggles we are going through now,” says Candice Collocott, who works fulltime and also runs a non-profit part-time, teaching the youth on the Cape Flats life skills. “Youth Day should be more about understanding each other, not only always thinking about the oppressed and the oppressor.”
Fatima Hoosain, who also has an NPC that focusses on skills development, worries that the current generation of youth do not have enough of an understanding of democracy and what it means to be an active citizen, after finding out that many of her friends didn’t vote in the recent national election, because they don’t believe it’s important.
“We need to have these discussions around democracy and what it means and how each voice actually means something – it needs to play a big role. I think people have forgotten their voice means something. Just because they are kids, doesn’t mean they don’t have a say,” she says.
The heroes of the past are not the youth’s heroes of today, but rather each other – other youth who are successful in business and in creating positive change in their communities.
As Mashile explains: “There is a deep legacy of hurt in our communities because of Apartheid. Hurt people hurt other people. We need to address the hurt. It shows in everything. Youth Day is an opportunity for us to do something. Has there ever been a more empowered generation, than ours? We have the law on our side, we can influence policy, we can march through the streets – but we can also start businesses and employ one another, we can apply for funding – but we can also boycott those people refusing to fund us and can create something for ourselves!
“I am not saying it is easy, but I am saying that as a young person who is aspiring to be an employer, that it is more possible for us, than it was for our parents. Our generation has to talk, our generation has to actively change things,” Mashile reiterates.
Activate has compiled a book, ‘Heroes’, featuring some of the 3,400 youth activators that have taken part in their leadership programmes to celebrate the youth of today who are making a real difference in their communities and those of other youth around them, across South Africa. These are the youth heroes that should also be celebrated ahead of Youth Day on June 16, the NPO believes.