Maverick Citizen: Youth activism

‘Education is a powerful weapon’

‘Education is a powerful weapon’
Lifelong activist, Ahmed Kathrada in discussion with young people. (Photo: Ahmed Kathrada Foundation )

Like many civil society organisations, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation has financial constraints. One of its worthy programmes aims to catalyse young leadership in poor communities through a network of 100 youth clubs. Maverick Citizen is publishing a series of articles by young people, for young people. Their appeal is: ‘Help us take forward the legacy of Ahmed Kathrada, by preserving his values and principles through the youth of South Africa.’

Young people demonstrating against Covid-19 corruption. (Photo: Ahmed Kathrada Foundation )

In this article three young activists from poor communities in Gauteng write about their campaigns, love of public service and the university of activism.

Mondli Mabuza, Thembelihle Youth Club

My community of Thembelihle has always been riddled with poverty, poor service delivery and naturally, crime. It is, after all, an informal settlement but one that many of us call home. As the hope of the community for a brighter future, it is important that young people rise above these challenges.

Looking back, being part of the Ahmed Kathrada Youth Clubs is among the best decisions that I have ever made. I was introduced to a network of young minds from seven areas in the south of Johannesburg. They brought visions for their communities to the table, allowing me to think beyond my immediate area and circles. I have been inspired to be part of a group of change makers who are solutions-driven, rather than just dwelling on the problems.

And I have been part of some amazing campaigns.

Before the nationwide lockdown, we were planning to host an event to motivate young people to stay in school, to help reduce the alarming dropout rate. It was planned to involve parents and guardians, by appealing for their participation in their children’s development and academic life.

In keeping our focus on education, the Thembelihle Youth Club managed to establish study sessions for pupils, with some of our members serving as tutors for those in grade 11 and matric classes. This was at the time when the country was still in alert level 4.

The group has maintained links with the #FreeToFlow campaign which is aimed at restoring dignity to young people by providing access to sanitary pads. It is our hope that many people will heed the call by the Foundation and donate to the crowdfunding initiative which will not only support the young women from Thembalihle but in other poor communities as well.

This opportunity has helped me realise the growth potential that young people, myself included, have in improving our country. My wish is to continue being part of the change that is so needed in our country today.

From a country riddled with substance abuse, we are saying enough is enough and are offering a better alternative. Change starts with one step at a time.

‘The Kathrada Youth Clubs threw me a lifeline’

Lerato Ramokhae, Eldorado Park Youth Club

I joined the AKF as a volunteer in September, 2019. Little did I know that I would fall in love with the work that the Foundation did. I found a sense of belonging after meeting like-minded young people and staff who did not care about my background, only in honing my leadership skills.

At the age of 17, I am now able to lead and interact with people of all ages, races and groups. At first, I was a bit shy and reserved because I had little understanding of how the world works. But with the help of my fellow comrades, I am now capable of handling tasks just like a good servant leader should.

I have been part of workshops which imparted lifelong qualities that we in turn share with our respective communities. The workshops and teachings have helped to awaken the spirit of servant leadership in me that I never even knew I possessed. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would meet some of the Struggle veterans and current activists who taught us how to be strong, brave and solid young leaders of our time.

The Youth Club that I am involved in hosted an environmental campaign, where we cleaned parts of Kliptown, in the south of Johannesburg. Criminals had been using the space to rob and rape victims. We decided to clean the area, to make it difficult for criminals to pounce on members of the community. We involved the South African Police Service and our local ward councilor, asking them to be part of the community campaign.

In September, our hearts were shattered after hearing about the killing of fellow Eldorado Park resident, Nathaniel Julies. As members of the Eldorado Park Youth Club, we visited the 16-year-old’s family to offer our support and condolences during the difficult time.

The AKF is a space where we get to be taken seriously, despite our circumstances. The aim is to make youth leadership fun again. When we are called to, we work really hard and can safely say that we are bringing positive change.

‘Grabbing the opportunity of a lifetime’

Alisan Tambala, Lenasia South Youth Club

I was introduced to the exciting work of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation at a time when I was not convinced about the idea of reviving anything that is broken. I honestly thought it was just one of those clubs where young people went to kill time, or socialise, as a means of running away from their realities.

However, I decided to take a leap of faith and see what the Kathrada Youth Clubs were about. One of the first meetings I attended turned out to be a creative space that sparked my interest, stimulating a sense of activism in me. Soon I realised that many of the youngsters there shared my dream: to change the world. The starting point, of course, being our environments that are riddled with difficulties. I also learnt that the only way we would conquer was to work together.

From that first meeting, I started to attend more and more. In the process, I learnt a lot more about our liberation history. Since some of the sessions were first-hand and super interactive, I learnt a lot more than at school. My own knowledge about Ahmed Kathrada and his generation grew immensely with every meeting. Well, I wouldn’t call them meetings as it sounds too formal but it was a safe space where youngsters came to discuss and create bright ideas.

Importantly, we spoke about our communities back home and how to make them better places where all can thrive. My dream is to transform my neighbourhood which was once referred to as toxic, into a flourishing garden.

Through the Kathrada Youth Clubs, my own journey as an individual began where I was able to develop and build up self-confidence so that I can tackle problems head-on and be able to help so many others, young and old.

The Kathrada Foundation made these steps easy for me, which is a sentiment shared by other members too. The Youth Clubs have exposed us to workshops where we got to collaborate as teams and when required, the Foundation trusts us to work and lead on our own. As I learnt and interacted with giants of the liberation Struggle, I grew to appreciate them a lot better, day by day. They sacrificed so much for us all to benefit, and as a young citizen of this country, I am grateful.

One of the best moments was when we got to link up with other youth clubs to share ideas and responses to similar challenges. This has helped a lot as we went from individuals to a local Youth Club that is linked to an impressive mother body at the forefront of protecting and guarding our democracy, promoting non-racialism and grooming a brighter future. We hope, as the youth wing, to make the Foundation and our communities proud.

As hard as it may be to believe, the Foundation is not only all about work. I was inspired when one of our mentors and now Youth Programmes manager, Irfaan Mangera got to travel to South Korea for a global youth conference. This is an opportunity some of us don’t get to see very often. Guess what? The lessons that he learnt from that experience, he brought back to teach us.

My greatest experience with the Foundation so far was when I and other youngsters got to visit Robben Island in Cape Town.

The journey to Cape Town is something I wish more members would get to experience, from the journey by bus down to every planned activity. During this time, we got to open up and learn new things about each other. The experience enabled us to forge long-lasting friendships and bonds that helped us break racial, gender or religious barriers.

The island gave us an emotional understanding of our liberation history. In particular, I remember breaking down during a historical visit to the cells that housed Ahmed Kathrada, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Andrew Mlangeni, Laloo Chiba, Shirish Nanabhai, Kgalema Motlanthe and others, just imagining what they endured for us to be where we are today. 

To me, Robben Island stands as the political school of hard knocks that only a few have had the privilege to visit and receive first-hand experiences narrated by former political prisoners. The trip, as free as it was, benefited us as we engaged during workshops and practical exercises. I discovered that my personality trait is similar to that of an eagle, a visionary bird that is able to see the bigger picture.

If I hadn’t decided that day to take the leap of faith, I would have deprived myself of an amazing opportunity to learn and grow with the objective of  my making an impact around me.

The Kathrada Youth Club is an opportunity many of us dream of and I am making it my personal mission to help get this message out to all youngsters.

Our goal is to have 100 youth clubs established by the year 2029. I hope that my own journey inspires someone to take action and join.

The world gives you so much pain but continues to make gold out of it; there is nothing purer than that. DM/MC


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  • Shelagh Nation says:

    I am delighted and encouraged to read these accounts. In the past, during many, many architectural familiarisation workshops, I found so much hidden and unrecognised talent, and just wish that I could continue making teenagers aware of just how great they can be!
    (I’m now a bit old, at 90)

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