Defend Truth


Young professionals must take centre stage to help shape the future of South Africa


Dr Onkgopotse JJ Tabane is the Editor of Leadership Magazine and Anchor of Power to Truth on ENCA. He holds a PhD in media studies from Wits University. He is CEO of a communications company Sgwili Media Group and is Author of Lets Talk Frankly. He is also a trustee of the Love Life Trust, The UWC Foundation as well as Chair of the UWC Media Society.

The youth have been excluded from the national agenda for too long. After all, they are the future, they are the ones who will be most affected by laws like the secrecy bill. It is time they reclaimed the agenda, and the people to lead them are those school leaders who now have degrees and are working.

If I asked you what the programmes of the youth are, you would probably say Julius Malema. Other than that, the youth organisations from the ruling party and those of the opposition do not make headlines these days. There is something that has been eroded from the psyche of our youth since the heyday of 1976, when school youth took to the streets to demand that they not be taught in the language of the oppressor.

From there, including in the 1980s, there was something that got watered down as far as youth activism is concerned. This does not mean that there are no youth activists in our communities. There are. It is simply unfortunate that in the serious debates in our country – debates that threaten to derail or build our democracy – you have to listen a tad harder to decipher the voices of young people.

As we celebrate June 16 yet again, we are called upon as a society to reflect on the role of our young people. The debates about our Constitution, debates about freedom of expression, debates about the Sexual Offences Act and the secrecy bill are missing a youth perspective. Ironically, all of them directly affect young people. There is a need not to exclude those who are considered ineligible to belong to a youth league or club because they are young adults who have been in professional lives for a while and are now experiencing the serious side of life.

They are the professionals who have completed their studies and are now aware that experience cannot be replaced by a string of degrees, professionals who are coming face to face with discrimination in the workplace. What were theoretical debates in their days as students is something that they have to face every day in the workplace. These young people are lonely and there is no one mobilising them to speak out about their experiences. Even the ruling party in its documents arguing for “organisational renewal” still does not focus enough on young professionals as an area of mobilisation. This is a mistake.

All young people who are today in student organisations, for example, are  in a period of transition in their lives. It is for that reason that the youth organisations they lead can never truly pursue a sustainable programme to change things over a long period.  It is the transitional nature of their stay in these organisations that is a source of obvious instability and lack of follow-through on big-ticket agenda items that can make a true difference.

Authorities who have to respond to issues they raise are very much aware of this limitation and take full advantage of it. That is why the next layer of these young people – the working youth – need to be mobilised a lot more aggressively because they can respond to a longer programme of change.

The cohort of professionals that may be mobilised through organizations such as the Black Management Forum have to do more than simply be happy with a membership of such organisations. I have not recently heard any noise from those quarters since the departure from the active advocacy of Jimmy Manyi. Love him or loathe him, on his watch the issues of transformation in the workplace were constantly on the national agenda.

Today there is virtual silence on these issues. You may be mistaken to think things are improving. They are getting worse. Recent reports show that the young professional is worse off from the point of view of opportunities in the corporate sector. This is the serious danger we face. With over 51% of young people under 35 languishing in the unemployment queue, we are sitting on a terrible time bomb that will go off at any time. There is a need for young leaders in our country to speak out much more.

As with the overall politics of our country, it is my view that we cannot resign everything to politicians. In fact, we should resign nothing to politicians in this instance. Young people within civil society are the ones who will have a better pedigree and courage to take on many issues that are facing society without being constrained by narrow partisanship. It has been proved the world over that younger politicians are a lot more intolerant of different views.

I remember back in the 80s the “progressive student movement” had a slogan that went “All students are Sansco and Sansco is all students”  – so there you have it .Try telling someone who believes in this slogan that there are other students who in fact are opposed to Sansco. You will need luck. The point is Christian youth, youth in sports and culture and the arts, and youth who are independent of political organisations should work with youth in political parties as a comprehensive voice that will ensure that the views of young people are not missing in the challenges of the day. 

This behoves institutions such as political parties and churches with youth organisations attached to them to give the necessary space to their youth organisations to blossom. The young leaders in our society must, however, fight for their space to matter. After all, it is this same country that they will inherit. They should start now to shape it. As we celebrate youth month one hopes that this call for young leaders to stand up and be counted can be heard. DM

Tabane is the Chief Executive of Oresego Holdings. He writes in his personal capacity.


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