‘What is leadership?’ This is the question a group of youngsters from some of Cape Town’s townships sought to answer as they spent a Saturday morning discussing leadership and the qualities that came with it.

The dialogue was being hosted by Activator Mkhuseli Madiba at the JL Zwane Centre in Gugulethu where about 25 mostly high school-aged youth leaders gathered.  

Explaining the reason for the dialogue, Madiba, who is also an executive member of the Township Youth Movement based at JL Zwane Centre, said that South Africa’s future success will depend on a new crop of leaders. These leaders will need to be cultivated though.

“In the past, South Africa came through different transformations of leadership. There’s so much happening, so many young people doing things,” he said. “This space is for us to converse about what we can do to take South Africa forward. It’s our time now.”

Madiba, along with his members of the Township Youth Movement, are also using the JL Zwane Centre as a hub for youngsters in the township seeking an alternative from mischief, usually after school, and are building up a small library with a few internet terminals.

The organisation is also planning to host a Youth Imbizo where young people will be invited to discuss their challenges and the role that leadership can be used to bridge these obstacles.

“There’s a great gap,” he said. “There’s been a break but there’s been no plan set in place for us to take over. Leadership can’t be given to us, we must take it!”

After introductions, Theophilus Booi, facilitator for the dialogue and fellow Activator whose Mfuleni-based Community Youth Parliament had some members in attendance, divided the youth into five groups. Each group then spent 15 minutes discussing what characterises leadership.

“Leaders get things done”, “…are motivators” and “…are magnets”. These were some of the conclusions that came out of the groups.

Most of the participants had a grasp on the essence of leadership and could recount anecdotes from their communities on the importance of figures who had provided leadership, but as they sat, discussions swiftly moved to not just leadership, but also the challenges facing the communities in which they live.

Asked how his organisation identified the members of the Mfuleni Youth Parliament, Booi said they had sought out youngsters who were already active in their communities.

“Not only leaders, but young people who are eager to create change and advocate for service delivery [in their communities],” said Booi.

Members were also recruited through schools in the area, and Booi said through this effort they had built up relationships with local principals in the Mfuleni area.

Booi is a first year Activator and said that his outreach to schools in the area also served the purpose of recruiting future Activators.

“The ACTIVATE!! platform is a broader platform and gives young people the opportunity to network with other people from around South Africa. That’s why we’re trying to get them involved, they need the type of information that ACTIVATE!! can give them,” he said.

Madiba added that the Township Youth Movement would be holding monthly sessions with Cape Town youth to discuss a variety of issues which specifically affect them.

“We want to bring youth together from different parts of Cape Town to express their needs and their wants and what should be done. We’ll be working with them if they have ideas and connect them with people who have resources and can assist in bringing our visions to life,” he said.

Originally from Limpopo, but having lived in both Johannesburg and Cape Town, Madiba studied at Tsiba Education and said that it was during a trip to Canada in 2011 as part of an exchange programme that his eyes were opened.

“Travelling to Canada and living in a different community opened my mind. I was intrigued by so many people there who were disadvantaged. Who was their voice?” he said.

While Canada is relatively well-off for its citizens, Madiba said the conditions there were bad for the poorest members of its society.

His experience in Canada prompted him to get involved in international and youth development.

Madiba acknowledged that most youth development is championed by politicians for their own ends.

“There are many doing something [in their communities] but we are all separated. The Youth Imbizo is a space for connecting us and working together to make a much more powerful impact,” he said.

Through collaboration and activism, Madiba said the young people of South Africa can bring about change, and not only through politics.

“My passion is in Gugulethu. I have adopted this community and work is mostly in the townships which were created to oppress people. We do have opportunities, how we make them work is what I’m trying to find out.”

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