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How often do we hear the following refrains: South African youth are apathetic. Our youth are lazy. Our youth have no skills. Our youth want everything done for them, they are waiting for hand-outs. We are creating a generation of dependents. Our youth have no motivation. Why don’t our youth start their own enterprises? The list goes on.
Well, I used to agree with most of them. That is, until I took it upon myself to find young people who don’t fit into these stereotypes that make us, the “older fogies”, comfortable. Every week I speak to at least one young person who is not only running their own enterprise or organisation, but more often than not the organisations they run are meant for the betterment of other young people and society in general.
Take Simphiwe, for example. He comes from rural KwaZulu-Natal, and says that when he went to a school he was lucky if he only had one other pupil to share a desk with, let alone a guidance teacher.
When Simphiwe matriculated, he had no clue where to begin pursuing further education.
So, he took the little money he had and got himself to Joburg, where he registered at one of our universities. He chose a commerce degree, because that was what was fashionable at the time.
He worked part-time while studying full-time, a feat in itself.
He didn’t make enough money to pay for each term of his study, and one day, during a tutorial, he was told he could no longer attend classes and tutorials because his fees were outstanding.
This he was told in front of his fellow classmates – adding further humiliation to what he had already endured.
He dropped out and tried and tried again. He eventually qualified and started an organisation aimed at helping other young people from rural areas in similar situations.
His organisation, which he runs with others with similar experiences, helps young people gain access to tertiary institutions so that they can see the career options available to them.
It helps these young people to apply for jobs through a centralised database and it helps them to access funds for their registration and study fees.
Lazy? No. Waiting for handouts? No. Lack of motivation? No. He is one of many. Another popular complaint, myth or refrain about our young people is that they have no interest in history; that all they care about is partying, making a quick buck and generally behaving in a deviant fashion.
There are many who do so, yes – but I think if we continue to generalise and make loud proclamations that this is all our youth is interested in, we will demotivate those who are the exception to the accepted or expected rule.
I had the privilege of meeting some of the 30 young people who entered the Somafco Trust Young Writers Competition.
The competition is targeted at 18- to 35-year-olds who write an essay based on some key themes ranging from economic development, the role women played in the liberation struggle and their space today, to unpacking their understanding of the National Development Plan.
I found young people interested in where they and the rest of the country came from. I found young people who were acutely aware of their place in history and the future and how our politicians might be robbing them of their place in the future if present problems are not addressed. I met young people calling for a return to values, not afraid of losing their “right” to have fun as the so-called “born-frees”.
I met young people who didn’t demand a job but were only asking for an opportunity to show what they can do. In the absence of the existence of those opportunities, they create them.
I met young people who are concerned not just about their own education, but about the education of those who will follow them.
Take young Sihlangule, for example, who makes the time to go back to his old high school to motivate the pupils, talk to them about their options and assist with subjects that they may find difficult.
There are many such examples I could quote. Often when we talk about the attitudes of the youth of SA, we base our assumptions on the youth political formations, forgetting that there are many who are either not politically affiliated or, quite frankly, couldn’t be bothered.
They just want to get on with it, uplift themselves, while taking others along with them.
Our task is to find them and give them the assistance and motivation that we can. They are not hard to find, as one 22-year old, Maphuthi, told me. Just switch on your nearest social media application, and Bob’s your uncle.
There are numerous examples of young people who are running social enterprises – who started from nothing and are slowly building a legacy for themselves and the country, while we bicker about policy instruments and who is not doing what and not spending what budget.
Of course these young people deserve support from the institutions that have been set up to assist them. Of course they deserve the funding that has been allocated to assist them, but has been squandered by those with narrow interests. But while we bicker and squander, could we please not paint all of them with the same brush?
Could we validate those who are trying to lift themselves up by their bootstraps, lest we condemn even those who are trying to the depths of despair where they will give up. Should that happen, then where will we be?
n Mgabadeli hosts Morning Talk on SAfm every week between 9am and noon