In a recent panel discussion held with youth activators from ACTIVATE! Change Drivers, a national NPO focused on empowering the youth of South Africa to create meaningful change in their communities, young people outlined exactly what they need from business and Government in order to succeed: practical education and skills training; experience; encouragement; acknowledgement; and to be heard.
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 youth network. To gain a better understanding of the socio-economic and political impact of youth social networks, Activate research has established that youth social networks are a viable development strategy, particularly in countries such as South Africa, where development and service delivery is uneven.
In order to ensure two million more young people will be employed, as President Cyril Ramaphosa’s SONA 2019 speech entreated, Government’s “small business incubation centres” to provide youth-driven start-ups with financial and technical aid and advice, as outlined by Ramaphosa in his address, could make a significant difference to the youth of South Africa.
But the youth also recognise that no one is coming to “rescue” them or give handouts.
Youth activator Kay-Dee Dineo Mashile cares about economic freedom. She wants to be successful so she can be an employer and create jobs. She believes the youth need to help themselves. “I know a lot of people who stood up and said, okay – an NPO and Government are not going to feed me, so what can I do to feed myself?”
Her advice to the youth is to be resourceful and look within their own communities as to where they can create opportunities for themselves from needs that exist; or make a difference within their communities by solving a problem.
Bhongolwethu Neo Sonti, a young entrepreneur who is part of an NPO focussing on education, cares about making a living and being connected to other networks. “With my career, if I put in the work, I’ll see movement in my work. And knowing that I’m involved in contributing something larger than myself to society. That is what I care about.”
Sonti said it is not only about having access to funding, but mentorship. “Those who are successful must be available to assist other young people. It’s the small things, like advising on where to study, or what to study, or how to access scholarships, or how to collaborate and be resourceful. Those are the conversations we need to start having.”
Hopes and fears
Brian Qamata, entrepreneur and community activist who was instrumental in starting chess programmes for the youth in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, is more afraid of not “making it” than he is of dying. “My biggest fear is not dying or lack of financial security, because I’ve been broke most of my life, my biggest fear is to see the development I’ve started in my community, die. My biggest fear is not making it… I have two old parents now and I still have to get a degree, get a job and build my father a house in the Eastern Cape.”
Ongeziwe Jaca, who began the Activate programme this year, cares about success and influencing those around her in a positive way. “I fear being unsuccessful. My hopes are to work at it. Every day, until I get to where I want to be.”
Mashile hopes every young person in South Africa gets the opportunity to do what they can for themselves. “My fear is that the next generation will go through the struggle, poverty and racism that our parents and some of us have gone through. My biggest hope is that we can influence our circles and go back and influence our communities. “Those who inspire me now are the young people who have walked through the same things as me… We see other youth around us achieving things, as our heroes.”