|Viewpoint by Magasela Mzobe
OF YOUTH MONTH AND YOUTH ACTION: understanding the drivers of social change
The month of June, since the early 2000s, was declared as the 'youth month' by the South African government. This declaration serves the function of putting on the spotlight and at the centre of national discourse the various social challenges that are prominent amongst the youth of our country, the continent of Africa and the world at large. Conversely, it poses the critical question of what exactly should the youth of today do in attending to our present youth challenges in a manner that inadvertently improves the collective social fortunes of society and our country as a whole.
Of course the departing point is to assess and understand the direst situation that constitutes itself as the most urgent social challenge confronting the youth. In this regard, as the ANCYL we have succeeded over the years in drawing the attention of the ANC and government to the triple, interrelated yet distinct, social contradictions facing South African society. It is now commonly held that unemployment, poverty and inequality constitute this triad of social trappings that undermine development in South Africa.
Amongst the most affected sections of South Africa by this triad of social trappings, the youth generally constitutes the leading force. This in turn suggests that the most visible means through which we can measure the progress of social transformation in our country is the extent to which the youth has been lifted out of poverty, broadly accesses employment and enjoys an equitable redistribution of wealth and asset accumulation. This will be a critical indication of how South Africa is moving forward.
As the ANCYL, we firmly understand that the strategic driver of social change is the existence of actors who are determined to change society and achieve their own development. It is in this context that we understand the centrality of youth action in resolving the very challenges that are confronting us. In the same light, we appreciate the motivating factors in using particularly the month of June as a reflection opportunity on these questions of youth development.
The motivating factor for the setting aside of particularly the month of June for this function is that historic act of rebellion carried out by the youth of 1976 who, on June 16, dared to confront the brutality of the Apartheid regime in protest of the human oppression that defined the politics of that day.
In view of the fact that June 16, 1976 is the context within which the youth month arises, it is necessary for us as the ANCYL and the youth of South Africa broadly to extrapolate from that fateful day the core lessons that should condition our understanding of youth month. June 16, 1976 combines tragedy and glory, a loss of life and the triumph of the human spirit against oppression.
It was a glorious moment for the oppressed people and youth of South Africa in that the very act of rebellion against the system asserted the power of a collective resolve amongst the toiling masses to rise up against injustice. By that very act of rebellion, they had already achieved the moral upper hand against the regime whose legitimacy derived from instilling fear and a sense of helplessness. History now holds that the events of that day ended with a loss of many young lives, entrenching their young blood as an immortal signature in the script of the struggle for freedom and democracy that took our country forward.
Arising from that act of rebellion was the affirmation of the fact that history proceeds along progressive lines on condition that the affected sections of society act together in a collective struggle to change their conditions. In attending to the triad of youth unemployment, underdevelopment and poverty it is a non-negotiable fact that we as the youth of South Africa must assume a leading role in imagining the necessary initiatives that society should pursue for the common good of all.
The call for 'Economic Freedom in our lifetime' that the ANCYL continues to make underscores the fact that youth development is inextricably attached to the whole question of equitable economic transformation. Young people should be at the forefront of the national debates on economic transformation as a means of unlocking the economic potential of our country whilst achieving a robust integration of young people into the mainstream of economic activities.
In our clarion call for economic freedom, we have emphasized that the expansion of access to education is a crucial feature of skills development that our country needs. Through skills development, we increase the potential for innovation in technology and the arts as well as the diversification of economic assets through entrepreneurial activity. It is for this reason that the NYDA is a strategic instrument of mobilizing and channeling investment in youth enterprises and broadening our skills base. The ANC manifesto, from which the programme of government shall derive, points to the need for preferential procurement by the State and other public institutions as a means of securing a decent market for SMMEs and youth owned enterprises.
It is now left to us as the leading force of young people in South Africa to creatively engage in mass campaigns that will crowd-in the youth towards the use of these opportunities. Our efforts should combine the agitation for a thorough-going transformation of South Africa's economic structure as well as the optimal exploitation of the already existing opportunities. This is rooted in the understanding that for South Africa to effectively move forward, the youth of this country will have to be the core driver of social change. This, however, entails the acquisition of the necessary instruments through which that change can be driven. Such things as education and training, entrepreneurial activism etc are key instruments of social transformation.
The most honorable tribute that we can afford the youth of 1976 is to cultivate amongst ourselves the same spirit that they upheld. Although the context has significantly changed, the overriding principle is the commitment to lead from the front and sacrifice immediate comfort for the long-term benefit of society as a whole.
(Magasela Mzobe is the National Coordinator of the ANC Youth League National Task Team. Writes on his capacity.)