The month of June in South Africa is dedicated to young people. In 1976, on June 16, young people mobilised themselves and changed South Africa. Through this action, young people proved that they are a powerful force.
As much as we celebrate youth month and the impact the young people of 1976 made in South Africa, youth development is still a problem in SA, particularly in rural Eastern Cape. The Department of Provincial and Local Government defines youth development as: a process in which young people are engaged so that they can acquire social, physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual and economic skills, knowledge and attitudes to enable them to (i) meet their personal and social needs, (ii) take up adult roles effectively, (iii) become well-rounded and productive members of their society and immediate communities. One aspect I want to raise, particularly in rural Eastern Cape, is: Access to Information and Resources. Young people in rural areas do not have access to the National Youth Services and the National Youth Development Agency. A number of social forces (i.e. unemployment, poorly resourced schools and poverty) have changed both the landscape of family and community life and the expectations for young people.
Today’s world has become increasingly complex, technical, and multi-cultural, placing new and challenging demands on young people in terms of education, training, and the social and emotional skills needed in a highly competitive environment.
This year, our leaders and the media have created an atmosphere of excitement and thrill that more young people are in Parliament. But will this bring change to the challenge of youth development? Development from the top won’t have an impact at the bottom. In fact by employing a few individuals does not mean our leaders are addressing youth development. They are just creating jobs for a few. An alarming number of young people are in townships and rural areas. Living in these places is a challenge because young people do not have access to information and resources.
Start youth development from the bottom, today. Youth Development should be taken as the ‘top-bottom’ approach. Our political organisations say ‘the branch is the basic unit of the organisation. The branches make the policies’. That approach must be applied to youth development as well. Local Government is the first and the most prominent position for young people to develop. Let us see young people take an active role in local governance. Our local leaders, the Ward Councillors, must co-opt young people into ward committees. If there are no young people in ward committees, young people need to mobilise and demand their rightful roles in local governance. Adopt programs and strategies at local government that will see every municipal council in South Africa made up young people (at least half the council).
There is still lack of participation by young people in the decision-making processes of the municipalities e.g. Integrated Development Plans. Most municipalities do not understand the NYS programme, therefore lack of implementation. The Department of Provincial and Local Government conducted a ‘baseline research on youth development at local level’. Out of 283 municipalities, only 56 municipalities responded to the study. Expanded Public Work Programmes are the most popular programme being implemented by municipalities.
All municipalities should establish a policy on youth development. Municipalities need to put together a youth council that will deliberate on priorities for youth development locally. Municipalities need to convene annual youth summits before the end each financial year. The youth policies on youth development, youth councils are all in legislation already. Youth summits should be compulsory to all municipalities.
Now is the time when young people are afforded the opportunity to acquire the attitudes, competencies and social skills that will see them take up the roles of Councillors and Mayors in 2016. Young people cannot acquire these competencies and attitudes themselves. Local Government (i.e. municipalities, cooperative governance and traditional affairs, the department of provincial and local governance), the NYDA and the private sector must put all of their hands on deck and accelerate the mainstreaming of youth development. Young people need to stand up and claim their rightful roles in government. In Gauteng and Western Cape, especially Johannesburg and Cape Town municipalities, there are youth councils. Why can’t we have them in other municipalities?
Anda Gqamane is a first year activator from Dutywa, Eastern. He is currently Chief Operations Officer at Imbasa Community Services, a registered Non-Profit Organisation dedicated to both in-school and out-of-school youth in the rural village of Esikhobeni A/A.