The lack of opportunities for education, excessively high levels of
youth unemployment and dissatisfaction with persistent levels of inequality are
all placing the country’s youth under an enormous burden, a panel of youth
leaders told a recent Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs) forum.
Shaeera Kalla – student leader, activist and former president of
the Wits student representative council – identified education, and its ability
to transform lives, as a central issue for the youth today:
“Education is about
being able to choose your place in society and is the key to overcoming
structural inequality and economic exclusion,” she said.
Much of the volatility seen on South African campuses and at
institutions of higher learning during the Fees Must Fall protests in 2015 was
aggravated by the youth’s perception that their voice and opinions were not
being taken into account.
With about 21 million citizens between the ages of 14
and 35, South Africa’s youthful demographic feels marginalised and
Kalla explained that the legitimate demands put forward during last
year’s protests have not been resolved and won’t disappear:
“The system has to
change so that your success is not simply determined by where you were born, or
the financial situation that you were born into.”
Thami Pooe, member of the Wits student representative council, told
the forum that South Africa’s youth was beginning to find its own independent
He said many South Africans were still economically excluded, and the
widening inequality gap, exacerbated by a lack of access to education, means
this inequality had manifested with only a few able to access the mainstream
“Collective action is needed to deconstruct our many societal
ills,” he said.
Kalla admitted that young people were regarded by many as violent
and angry. She said South Africans had “mastered the art of deluding ourselves”.
“People are angry because the situation they are living in is
unjust. We are trying to make sense of a system that predates us and exploits
us. The global crisis we are in is caused by the structural inequalities within
She said South Africans had to “speak out about where we are
Neliswa Fente, Mandela Washington Fellow and co-founder of youth
consultancy SpringAGE told the forum that she believed democracy was
fundamentally about respect and a tolerance for others’ beliefs. “If you go in
angry, you can’t interact,” she said.
“Democracy is being able to participate with all different types of
people. The youth must use that opportunity to create something for themselves.
If you are not respectful and tolerant, then we can’t attempt to understand and
solve our country’s bigger problems,” she explained.
“The failure to seek to understand one another is our greatest
challenge in South Africa today,” Ndumiso Hadebe, winner of South Africa’s youth
leadership debate show One Day Leader and an entrepreneur, explained.
While historically South Africans had been deliberately divided and
kept unequal, he said:
“Now we have the opportunity to create the country of our
dreams. But this means having the difficult conversations around persistent
Kalla agreed that discussions were necessary to foster
understanding, but that truly moving beyond rhetoric meant putting our energies
behind things that change the fundamental structural inequalities of society and
not only in activities which “look good on social media.”
“Money is not a scarce resource, coordination and political will
are,” she concluded.
Hadebe said a sense of ownership of South Africa’s problems would
allow for innovative solutions:
“We must be solution-oriented. Education is
still the greatest equaliser and tool to change the world, but it must respond
to our challenges and must be practical.”
Steven Zwane, founder and chairperson of the non-profit
organisation Youth Leadership and Entrepreneurship Development said he believed
practical solutions are required to make young people “entrepreneurially aware.”
Business leaders could play a fundamental role in achieving this by
opening up windows of possibility for young people and allowing them to excel.
“We continue to promote the affluence of our lives. There is the
opportunity for reflection from every executive and a multitude of opportunities
exist to be door openers and enablers.”
City Press is a media sponsor of the Gibs forums.