Friday, 12 April 2013

How Can Young People Claim More Space To Drive Change?

(Delivered at UKZN Graduate School of Business, at the launch of the Activate! Exchange on 20 March 2013)

There is a global trend where governments formulate youth policies that respond to the changing conditions of young people in the 21st century. Ironically, the extent of young people’s involvement in the formulation of these is questionable.

Currently South Africa has the National Youth Commission (NYC) Act, 1996 (Act 19 of 1996), the NYP 2000 and the National Youth Development Policy Framework (NYDPF) 2002/07 which are youth legislative policy frameworks that were undertaken by the national Parliament to ensure that youth development and service delivery for young people happens. These undertakings outline the South African government’s attempts at creating an enabling environment for young people to drive change.

I am grateful that such measures have been undertaken; it is a step in the right direction as we grapple with issues of transformation as young people, and as society at large. These legislative processes amply outline institutional arrangements for youth development and give perspective on how the delivery of services for young people was to occur, with their involvement and meaningful participation.

The government’s perspective on youth issues must be properly aligned with true realities of young people.

There are 4 propositions that I will make that should enable young to be effective in driving change.


Information is a key support in public- and private-sector interventions to transform poor neighbourhoods into economically vibrant, diverse communities. The lack of information, perhaps as a result of limitations in the education system and service delivery in general, has created asymmetrical developmental patterns that disenfranchise our youth; more especially those from rural areas. This is a stark contrast when you consider that today, thanks to technological advances and the recent census; we have more information about our youth than ever before. With that information and technology together, we have the power to be of better service to young people. The critical question is ‘do we as a nation and as young people have the willpower to do it?’ I believe that we do, both as a nation and as young people.

Young people need to be informed so that they can awaken from a deep slumber induced by ‘social anaesthetics’ such as drugs, alcohol, television, mass culture, anger, destructive behaviour, defensiveness, selfishness, etc. These anaesthetics make them disillusioned about the reality confronting young people today. Lifelong learning is what we need to advocate amongst young people. As learning beings we can transform our societies. Learning is the best thing we can do for ourselves as young people; this encompasses both formal and informal learning. We need to find ways of engaging young people as civil society, as the public and private sectors in more meaningful ways. Faith-based organizations also need to review how they make relevant the message of the Bible, African beliefs systems, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita, etc. to the young people of today. One cannot deny the influence that faith-based organizations have on young people generally and their capacity in the learning process.

Young people need to familiarize themselves with the Municipal Handbook for Councillors, and Making Local Government Work: An Activist’s Guide. Knowledge of these will enable young people to position themselves to be part of the change-making process and hold themselves accountable.

The guide will help you:

a)    Understand local government and what it should be doing for

 every community

b) Monitor (or keep track of) what local government is doing

c) Find out what to do when local government ignores the

    community or breaks the rules, and your role as the youth

d) Take action to enforce our rights to basic services such as water, sanitation,    electricity, housing, and health to name a few

e) Find organizations that can help you in bringing about change.

The need for young people to be informed and knowledgeable cannot be stressed enough. We should look at social clubs and the potential they have in imparting knowledge and information that can assist young people to occupy more space to drive change in their communities.


Once value-added information is attained, young people can provide their own insights and cognitive knowledge of the situation to turn that information into actionable knowledge. It is only at this step that young people can contribute to the mass democratic movement and help bring about transformation.

To provide balanced and objective information to assist in understanding the politics of today and their influence on topical issues, to seek alternatives, to access opportunities and find solutions to the myriad of social challenges they are confronted with young people need to consult, and to be consulted. The Activate! Leadership for Public Innovation and others like it are flagship programmes aimed at engaging young people in the change-making process. Young people should partake in such initiatives.

Planning for youth consultation involves

·        Consider legislative requirements

·        Select a non-partisan level of community youth engagement

·        Set up and maintain a community youth engagement record

·        Establish evaluation measures.

All these points are aimed at enhancing and strengthening a youth involvement strategy.


Public participation is crucial in the building of an effective democracy. This entails participation as voters, as residents who express their views before, during and after policy development, as participants in ward committees and IDP forums, as activists in monitoring the performance of local government.

Poor service delivery, a lack of job and study opportunities has made young people despondent and apathetic in their own development. To overcome this state of apathy rigorous involvement is needed on the part of young people.

Youth involvement builds “social capital” -- social ties, networks, and support -- which is associated with better community development and well-being. Participatory decision-making can uncover and mobilize community assets, strengths, and resources, such as young people, that would have been otherwise overlooked. Processes that can engage young people in identifying the resources and assets in their communities that can be mobilized to improve health, wellness, job opportunities and quality of life need to be put in place. Stated differently, young people need to identify themselves as a resource unto themselves.

Youth involvement is about opening up and engaging young people, and acknowledging and using their talents to help solve the problems that they own and live with every day. It is about including young people in decision-making processes, which is critical in the successful development of acceptable policies and decisions in government, the private sector and the community.

Implementing a youth engagement strategy entails developing an inclusive Action Plan, completing a Task Breakdown and the evaluation thereof.


This proposition is based on an understanding of the community’s resources — individual capacities and abilities, and institutional resources with the potential for promoting personal and community development.

The overall objective is to promote connections or relationships between individuals, between individuals and organizations, and between organizations and organizations. This should be translated further into collaboration between youth from different social classes and racial categories; which then broadens the horizon for young people and facilitates social re-imagination.

When young people are organized they can be better positioned to bring about change in their communities. I will stress the need for faith-based organizations, public and private institutions to make a concerted effort in engaging young people. Similarly, as young people we need to overcome the numerous divides that keep us from meaningfully engaging with each other. These divides are a reflection of our reality; and that reality is that we will not be young forever; and ultimately, the opportunities available to us as young people will come to pass. It is thus apparent that young people need to organize themselves as agents of change.

In conclusion, we need to engage with the powers that be in a non-violent manner for the advancement of an effective democracy; being informed facilitates active and meaningful engagement. We need to appropriately consult and involve ourselves in the processes of inter-sectoral collaboration. This means that we, as both black and white youth, need to collectively work together to transform South Africa and realize a non-racial country, while promoting the spirit of unity amongst ourselves.