Give youth a voice

South Africa’s future hinges on today’s youth, and their concerns need to be heard if we are to prosper. This was one of the major outcomes of the Johannesburg leg of the National Development Plan (NDP) Youth Dialogues hosted by the Mail & Guardian newspaper and Brand South Africa.

Education, youth unemployment, and the role of the media were debated at the event, which was held at the Hyatt Hotel in Rosebank on 26 June. Panellists looked at how youth could engage with the NDP, and one way this could occur, they concluded, was by giving young people a chance to voice their concerns on matters affecting their lives.

youth-voice1Sacred Heart College pupil, Masego Mafata urged South Africans to give youth a voiceGodfrey Phetla, the director of policy and research for the Enterprise Development Unit in the Department of Trade and Industry, said the government must create the platform for youth to express themselves, and must seriously consider what they had to say. “We always have to speak on behalf of young people. We are not giving them a voice. This is where we have gone wrong as a country.”

One of the young audience members, Masego Mafata, a pupil at Sacred Heart College in Johannesburg, urged society to give young people the chance to speak. “Most of the time people do not really get our perspective.”

And Langalethu Manqele, the chairperson of the Johannesburg branch of the Black Management Forum (BMF), encouraged young people to use their energy, passion and questioning nature to make the future favourable for them. “They have a unique energy and value system the rest of the population does not have. They need to bring that energy with them to turn things around or else society will always arrest them.”

ENTREPRENEURSHIP THE ANSWER

Entrepreneurship was put forward as a solution to the country’s rising youth unemployment figures, which, according to the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report on South Africa, was 48% at present. The president of the Junior Chamber International South Africa, Angel Kgokolo, opened the debate by saying enterprise development was important in addressing inequality and to achieve the transformation that was needed to secure a future for young citizens.

GEM’s Entrepreneurial Framework Conditions had to be promoted, which would ensure the needs of young businesspeople were met. These conditions include the cultural and social norms of a country, market dynamics, research, development and education.

The GEM report states that just 40% of South Africans believe they are capable of being entrepreneurs, well below the 52% average of similar efficiency-driven economies. It adds that the country’s education, which is one of the framework conditions, has affected the vastly negative perceptions people have of their entrepreneurial capability. “Education was given the lowest mean score by the national experts, indicating that South Africa’s education system is not effectively developing individuals with the skills and confidence required to consider entrepreneurship as a valid career choice,” the report states.

youth-voice2IkamvaYouth’s Gauteng regional director, Patrick Mashanda, said the media must celebrate South Africa’s achievementsOnly 14% of South Africans intend to pursue business opportunities in the next three years, which is lower than the average of 27% for efficiency-driven countries. Kgokolo pointed out that a number of young start-ups were unprepared and were set up to fail. “They do not have the capacity to face the challenges of being entrepreneurs.”

The founder of recycled products manufacturer Eco Smart, Lisa Kuhle, said this was due to a lack of mentorship. Businesses, she added, failed because there was no support. “Starting a business out of poverty is almost impossible. There are [high] costs to incur.” She suggested the government and corporates contributed by supporting small businesses run by young entrepreneurs.

Matsi Modise, the national executive director of South African Black Entrepreneurs Forum, felt it was important for the government and business to work together to ensure young entrepreneurs had access to opportunities. “The government does play its part and has put together policies. But any environment must have a cohesive effort.”

However, the BMF’s Manqele thought entrepreneurship was over-emphasised and that there were other solutions to unemployment. He said the country should rather deal with its skills shortage by encouraging young people to get educated. “Not all of us can own and run businesses. We need scientists, too. It is much harder to escape poverty via a business because you need networks. People who have these networks are insiders.”

Erica Kempken, a senior consultant at ProServ South Africa, said all additional skills one would need to thrive in the workplace were not taught in schools. “We can teach so many more skills than we are currently doing.”

Education, Kempken insisted, started in early childhood and the “NDP is incredibly clear about how important that is”. Furthermore, she said, creativity should be encouraged in the classroom and that it needed to be harnessed in a guided fashion. Schools first needed to teach children skills and afterwards allow them to “put it into practice in a creative way”.

MEDIA SHAPES YOUTH

youth-voice3Documentary filmmaker Khanyisile Magubane said the media sets the agenda for youth’s aspirations (Images: Shamin Chibba)According to journalist and documentary filmmaker Khanyisile Magubane, young South Africans are becoming media savvy and are quickly understanding its power. “The knowledge base an average 13-year-old has now is way more than a 13-year-old from 20 years ago. Technology has played a big role in that.”

As a result, Magubane believed the media set the agenda for the youth’s aspirations – the way they reflected themselves had a lot to do with the way the media portrayed them. “If you look at the programming on radio and television aimed at young people, it is shallow, it dumbs down the minds of young people. So the question we should be asking is which young minds are going to play a role in shaping the National Development Plan.”

She said the media could play a beneficial role in developing the youth by telling stories that portrayed young people who were affirmed in their families. She referred to the SABC 1 television drama Skeem Saam as a good example of how this could be achieved. “[The show] traces how families deal with [problems]. You see [situations] where families are saying to their children ‘You have messed up but it is not the end of the world’. That child walks away with an understanding that ‘I have made a mistake but I can learn from it.'”

Patrick Mashanda, the Gauteng regional co-ordinator of the education development NPO IkamvaYouth, said news media had a habit of reporting negative stories, a practice which many in the audience believed could affect the youth. He called for the media, instead, to “celebrate South Africa’s achievements so as to inspire people”.

He also urged South Africans to continue working towards a better future, regardless of whether their actions were reported in the media. “Sometimes the media is not accessible. So people should just take action and continue with those programmes for the sake of the nation and our youth.”

YOUTH NEED CONFIDENCE

Magubane also said young people needed to learn how to articulate their thoughts. “This comes from being taught how to be confident in yourself and who you are.” Confidence and the kinds of thoughts young people had were directly linked to the way they were brought up.

While producing the six-part documentary series Why Are We So Angry? which aired on SABC 1 in 2012, Magubane had come across a number of young people who were intelligent but lacked confidence. “We are not seeing young black kids from the township schools being affirmed enough to say they are okay in their existence, that they are good enough and their mind is good enough.”

She said the lack of access to quality education was one of the factors driving this low self-esteem. “I think they are at that stage where they want more but they do not have access to it.”

First published by MediaClubSouthAfrica.com– get free high-resolution photos and professional feature articles from Brand South Africa’s media service.