Young people must be empowered to drive South Africa’s development

The recently held elections in South Africa once again shone a spotlight on the importance of active citizenry, pride and patriotism in our country and its heritage as well as an indomitable our hope for a better future.

For many of our youth who were born during the two decades of democratic freedom in our country, the elections provided a powerful reminder of how citizens can pool their collective power to make a difference to our country.  We ourselves own the power to build the South Africa we want to see by 2030.

Young people are a critical force in this.  You have the enthusiasm, vibrancy, courage and spirit to do things differently, to make changes that will bring a better life for the millions of our people.

Is it any wonder that many of the innovations we most enjoy in our lives were spearheaded by young people and it is these individuals that continue to inspire us – young and old alike.  People like Steve Jobs who inspired the Apple revolution throughout the world.

In South Africa we have people like Mandla Maseko who will be the first black South African astronaut and Siya Xuza who has had a minor planet named after him by NASA based on his ground breaking work.  A little piece of South Africa lives in space through the planet named Siyaxuza.

We may not know what active citizenship is as a concept but when we look at people like Siya Xuza and Mandla Maseko, we realise that the meaning does not matter.  What matters is that these inspiring young people have done what they could, when they could with the resources they could!  They were excellent at what they needed to do in their respective fields and soon enough, they received the recognition and accolades that they deserved.  However, this is not the end for them.  We will yet hear of their contributions to South Africa in particular and the world in general.

This is the spirit that must drive the implementation of the National Development Plan which recognises the role young people can and must play in South Africa’s development.

Recognising that we have a rapidly urbanising and increasingly youthful population, the NDP or Vision 2030, presents an unprecedented opportunity to harness the talent, passion and energy of the youth to help boost economic growth and development in the country.  By being innovative and creative in how we do this, we will be able to ensure the gainful employment of our young people.

The NDP recognizes that all too often young people bear the brunt of unemployment, and as a result, the NDP has adopted a “youth lens” in preparing its proposals to help young people become active, contributing citizens moving forward.

The implementation of the NDP will see young people receiving quality education – particularly around maths and science programmes, skills transfer and training.  Government will be expected to play its part by ensuring adequate teacher training as well as enabling infrastructure for schools and tertiary institutions.  Communities and civil society are expected to play their part by developing programmes, together the relevant institutions, to provide life-skills and entrepreneurship training.  Organised business is expected to expand learnerships, comply the tax incentives to support the employment of young people and create formalised graduate recruitment schemes.  The implementation of the NDP will see South Africa become a nation that collectively cares for its young people as envisaged by President Mandela.  The soul of our nation will be carried by productive and engaged young people.

Ultimately, the National Development Plan must result in a more united, cohesive society – the words unity in diversity must extend beyond the pages on which I write them.

To achieve this, we must all play our part in our individual spaces.  We must each do what we can, where we can, when we can to make our homes, communities and country, safer, happier, prosperous and fulfilled.  I urge each of you reading these words to give them life by going into your community to see what you can do to make someone else’s life slightly brighter.  South Africa has many social and economic challenges.  The National Development Plan clearly recognises this.

The Plan also identifies the required interventions that must be taken to address these challenges sustainably and durably.  We cannot and must not be grappling with these 20 years from now.  The year in which we celebrate 20 years of democracy must be remembered in history as the year in which South Africa collectively – you and I included – decided to do things differently to grow our country.  We must begin by prioritising the growth and development of our children, our young people.  They are our greatest legacy.

Ms Wendy Tlou is Director: Strategic Marketing and Communication at Brand South Africa

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