All aboard the Youth Express

From Left: Chairperson of the
Gauteng Advisory Board Simon Molefe,
Deputy Minister Obed Bapela and NYDA
CEO Steven Ngobeni stand in front of
the Youth Express train.

Traditional dancers who are part of the
Umoja group were on hand to provide
some entertainment.

The Youth Express train that will be
travelling around the country. (Images: Zakithi Motha)

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Valencia Talane

The Youth Express train takes off on 1 June from Johannesburg’s Park station, carrying on board be an energised team of people who are passionate about taking youth development further than it has gone before.

Young people across South Africa should take the opportunity to acquaint themselves with, and explore the services of the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) when the train hits their hometown.

The NYDA launched their campaign for June, which is South Africa’s Youth Month, in Johannesburg on Tuesday 29 May. The organisation’s programme for this year involves a month-long train ride to all the provinces, an effort they describe as a way to reach as many of young South Africans as possible.

In a partnership with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), the NYDA will use the month to enhance their awareness campaign by taking their services to rural areas.

The expedition is described by CEO Steven Ngobeni as an opportunity for the organisation to shine through in its efforts and show that it is capable of making strides in the field of youth development.

It also gives the agency an opportunity to revive their image, which came under attack in 2010 from media reports of overspending for the hosting of the World Festival of Youth and Students, held in that year.

At the centre of this year’s campaign is a youth fair planned for the official Youth Day celebrations at the Wolfson Stadium in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. This will involve young entrepreneurs setting up exhibition stands at the venue and showcasing their businesses, while networking with captains of industry.

Youth Day, which is celebrated on 16 June, is observed nationally to commemorate the student uprising of 1976 that occurred in several of the country’s largest townships. The day has been recognised as a national public holiday since 1994 and honours those who took part in the protests against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction for black pupils.

Righting mistakes of the past

In the past, said Ngobeni, the systems in place for the NYDA to operate would give potential young entrepreneurs large funds in the form of loans, without helping them to understand the implications of handling their money and their business.

This is not the case anymore as the organisation now goes through all the processes with the client to make sure they have sufficient understanding of how their business works and to ensure sustainability.

“The problem with the ways of the past is that there was no financial management training to accompany the loan. So instead of developing young entrepreneurs, we were, in a sense, setting that young person up to fail,” he said.

“We are now moving towards making sure that young people know where to go for help when they need to start a business, including assigning them a mentor who will walk them through the processes.”

He added that through a new initiative called Ithubalentsha micro enterprise programme, they hope to give deserving young people access to sustainable enterprise development products and services. “Ithubalentsha” is a Zulu word meaning “An opportunity for the youth”.

Corporates lend a hand

In order for the key programmes of the NYDA to succeed, however, the cooperation of corporate South Africa is needed. The message from the agency is that with the unemployment rate being as high as it is in the country, South African companies need to be asking themselves how they can help.

Mzwabantu Ntlangeni, the NYDA’s executive manager of corporate partnerships, expressed satisfaction at the role that some of the country’s largest and most well-known companies have played in partnership endeavours.

“We believe that there is no such thing as knocking on the wrong door,” he said, explaining that where the NYDA is not able to assist a budding entrepreneur or a young person with a worthy social initiative, they show them the way to the right door.

“And the response has been very positive from corporates. A lot of them have had a somewhat negative impression of how the NYDA operates because of the media reports regarding, among other things, the world youth festival.

“But when they see our plan of action, they see feasible projects that they can take part in and help turn the situation with the youth around in a big way.”

One such company is the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa). Head of communications Lawrence Venkile said their core vision as a company is to position rail services as the preferred mode of transportation, and that incorporating the skills of young people in order to do this makes sense for their brand.

“We see ourselves as having an opportunity to contribute towards youth development through mobility,” he said.

Venkile further said while they find the opportunity to create jobs for young people exciting, their objectives do not end there. Prasa also wants to attract as many young commuters to the use of its services on a daily basis.

“We transport over two-million people daily on our trains, so to attract more young people, our plan is to make our trains trendy.”

Turning a bad image around

Because the NYDA is a government agency, its performance and governance record is monitored by the national government. Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Performance Monitoring, Evaluation and Administration, Obed Bapela, was also on hand to provide some scope into the work of the NYDA.

Bapela paid tribute to the outgoing board of the NYDA, whose term ended in April this year, saying they laid the foundation for what is now a world-class youth development agency that adheres to good corporate governance principles.

“It is as a result of the hard work that went into the first three years of this agency that it has managed to receive unqualified audit opinions for the financial years since its establishment,” he said.

He further listed some of the NYDA’s most notable achievements since its establishment in 2009. Among these is the successful setting up of 144 service delivery access points across the country through which the organisation can be reached.

The agency has also linked over 2 000 young people with mentors and given over R60-million (just over US$ 7-million) in loans to entrepreneurs.

Bapela concedes that there is more to be done still. In a country with young people accounting for 70% of the 25% unemployment rate, the work cannot be done by the government alone.