The role of youth in post apartheid South Africa

The Fall, a new production by University of Cape Town graduates who share their personal experiences during the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall campaigns, is being staged at the South African State Theatre commemorating Youth Month. Source: File photo.

In a world faced with growing narrow nationalism, extremism, sectarianism, wars on immigrants from the global south, trade tariffs, protectionism and building walls, initiatives such as the Al-Sharq Youth Forum which seeks to build networks of young people to develop solutions to address complex political challenges in the Middle East, North Africa and now sub-Saharan Africa, must be welcomed. We are particularly appreciative that Al-Sharq chose Cape Town, the ancient gateway into Southern Africa by the colonialists and the West, in which to host this hub.

Across the globe, where the far-right seems to be making electoral inroads in the United States and most of Europe – the traditional north – we must value, as the global south and developing nations, this strategic intervention which seeks to unite progressive young people in engaging the geopolitical, among other, challenges and opportunities that we face in our world. 

During the infant years of our democracy, South Africans engaged, at a national level, in the act of storytelling and thus building on the legacies of communities in their contribution in the fight against oppression.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), with all its imperfections, sought to tell the stories of young people in a number of formations but particularly the generations from the forties through to the generation of 1976 and the 1980’s. We are inspired by the stories of the contributions of youth from different communities in the Western Cape whom apartheid sought to divide by racial lines.  

Today, our generation of young people in general must contribute to this rich tapestry. As inadequate as processes such as the TRC was, we must build on the gains made by young people in shaping policy and service delivery since 1994. We continue to influence policy, for example, in respect of free education for the poor, youth representation in structures of decision making but also in foreign policy such as the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and other solidarity movements.

The BDS campaign exemplifies this kind of international campaign run mostly by young people and in which young people play an integral role in deploying solidarity towards the young people of Palestine. Our generation here in South Africa must join the young people the world over, especially in the Middle East and North Africa, in pursuing governments that are responsive to the needs of young people in particular.

The story of the Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi is the story of so many young people across the globe but especially in developing countries. His is a story of a young person trying to make a living, attempting to defeat poverty and ensuring that their brothers and sisters live a better life.

Today as the Middle East and North Africa continue to struggle with an older generation of leaders who do not necessarily wish to give up power and influence, we too here in sub-Saharan Africa, who have the same challenge, must ensure that as young leaders, across political party lines, that we encourage and nurture young leaders. The youth of today are not only leaders of tomorrow, we are also the leaders of today!

Young people daily have to lead in the fight against poverty and unemployment as we struggle “to make a living”. Constantly, young have to fight the urge to succumb to substance abuse through alcohol and drug abuse while encouraging others not to do the same. Young girls have to ensure that despite the system being against them that they have to traverse the treacherous road of education whilst often fending off a partner who is abusive.

The story of the Palestinian Ahed Tamimi must be the story of all young girls suffering from oppression throughout the world. If a young girl, Ahed, can stand up against the soldiers of a powerful but brutal army, then young girls must take courage to stand up against the abuse meted out against them by all men who are abusive.

In leading these struggles today, young people are also telling stories and building legacies in order to lead tomorrow. The world that young people build today is the one that our children will inherit tomorrow and so therefore the questions of education, fighting abuse, combating substance abuse, tackling youth unemployment and poverty through creating opportunities as well as investing in small to medium enterprises run by young people becomes vital.

We are very proud in South Africa, as young people, that after years of bad publicity we are now seeing clear goals being delivered by our National Youth Development Agency (NYDA). For example, in the previous financial year the NYDA assisted nearly seven hundred youth-owned enterprises through grant funding. Hitherto, over sixty thousand aspiring and established young entrepreneurs have been supported by the NYDA’s Business Development Support Services; only one of the programs run by the NYDA.

The story of the organisation I belong to, the ANC Youth League, is one that has a legacy of young people pursuing the challenges and opportunities of young people and emerging triumphant! While in a constant state of renewal and rebuilding, attributes intrinsic with a youthful nature, we strive at all times to ensure that young people not succumb to the tales of elder leaders but themselves, as young people, emerge as leaders.

The history of our world, continents, regions and countries tell the story of young people who were valiant in taking on systems of oppression and exploitation. Whether it is in Cairo or Cape Town, Manama or Abidjan, young people will lead in the emancipation of their people. United, across borders and throwing off the shackles of narrow nationalism, extremism, sectarianism, protectionism and isolation, we will build a better world.

Muhammad Khalid Sayed is the Western Cape Provincial Chairperson of the ANC Youth League.