Opinionista Chanel Bowen 18 August 2017

The youth: If we are to lead in future, we need to start our driving lessons now

At the recent event, The Gathering – Media Edition, former struggle stalwart Jay Naidoo told the audience that young people “must be compulsory components of the conversations we are having about our country”. He is absolutely right.

I went along to The Gathering – Media Edition, which was held in Cape Town recently. After all, just because we are young does not mean we will not find a media gathering “lit”.

The Gathering – Media Edition focused on the abuse of media in our nation, a nation which the South African youth is gingerly growing up in. In a decade or two we will be the ones behind the wheel. We need to start our driving lessons now, with our professionals and leaders as our teachers.

Before the “Civil Society, Media and Public Activism” panel discussion had begun, human rights lawyer and social activist Fatima Hassan made a valid point: Where was the necessary representation? She said that she wanted to see more black women and youth on the panel.

I couldn’t agree more. Standing in the conference hall, watching the businessmen and women, stakeholders and government workers filing into the building, I felt out of place: the only youth representation I found was in my two fellow high school friends.

Yes, The Gathering may have been aimed at an older demographic, but as students looking into tertiary study and careers in politics and journalism, it was a beneficial experience. Everyone who came to talk to the three of us was impressed that we had chosen to attend, telling us that it would be great to see more youth represented at events such as these.

Teenagers and young adults all over the country would be immensely interested in conventions like The Gathering, either to grow their knowledge in a field they are interested in or just to learn more about the state of their country. Advertising at schools, where there are bound to be students eager to hear the discussions, is a step that event organisers could take.

As political and labour activist-turned businessman Jay Naidoo said in the discussion, “Young people must be compulsory components of the conversations we are having about our country.”

As the discussion progressed, another point was raised: we need more media coverage on encouraging public activism. The notion of “seeing is believing” is a cliché but true: if we do not see activism, we will not know that it is there. As teenagers and young adults, we know what is failing in our country, but we have no idea how to become a part of the positive and progressive change that is dearly needed to fix it. The only other option we have if we want to make a change is to start from scratch, but that idea is overwhelming and unrealistic.

Instead of asking, “What can I do to spark change?” we should be asking, “Here is where progress is being made; how do I get involved?”

This raising of awareness is a huge responsibility for the media. In this day and age, with the rise of online communication – social media especially – it is quite simple to connect with the entire nation and bring an issue into the spotlight. With a few clicks of a button, you have a story accessible from anywhere with internet connectivity. But this is where the problem of “fake news” – or false information – arises. You could spread any story, leaving people drowning in words that are not real, and more disorientated than ever.

Therefore, as well as working on providing news stories that are viable and reliable, independent media needs to use social media authentically to broadcast to our youth who are already on the ground, working to better our country. Once we know what is going on, we can put all hands on deck.

The media plays a vital role in providing the youth with genuine, useful and educational information that they can transform into active and progressive change. By reaching out over platforms that the youth interact with regularly, the media has the necessary tools to empower the youth, who can then enable the country to move forward.

I do not speak on behalf of all South Africa’s youth. I have not encountered the disadvantages that some people my age have lived through. Just the fact that I am able to have my say on a news platform like this demonstrates that I have opportunities not everyone will be able to experience. But I do know that I am the voice for youth all over this country when I say this: When you give us all a platform, a voice, authority we can trust and media we can believe in, you give us a tomorrow. DM

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