Melanie Veness, CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business.

Often when “the youth” are mentioned, you can see people bristle.

The feeling associated with the term is not a good one, the reasons for which I don’t think I’ll delve into right now.

I just want to say that it is a great pity that this is the case. In the past couple of weeks, I have met some amazing and inspiring young people, one of whom is a matric candidate called Luyanda Ngosi, the winner of the Nelson Mandela Speech Contest 2012.

I met Luyanda when I listened to her deliver her speech at the competition’s awards ceremony.

I was so impressed, not only with her delivery, but with the content and structure of her talk, that I invited her to speak at our annual Nedbank PCB Banquet last Friday evening.

She spoke about the controversial painting The Spear and about how differently it was perceived through different people’s eyes and through different paradigms – our apartheid past, the present and the future.

She spoke about there being three versions of any story – yours, mine and the truth, which lies somewhere in between. She then went on to talk about constitutional rights, particularly the right of artistic expression, and how one must not forget that there is also an unwritten code of responsibility.

That in exercising one’s Freedom Charter rights one must be cognisant of and sensitive to the effect that this is likely to have on others.

Luyanda ended off by imploring us to try to see things through the eyes of our future.

Anup Kaihar, regional sales manager for Vodacom, reinforced her point a little later in the evening by pointing out that if the letter “o” represents opportunity, we must take note that there is no “o” in yesterday, only one in “today” and three in “tomorrow”.

Needless to say, Luyanda received a standing ovation at the banquet.

It is the brave and insightful young people like her who fill us with hope for the future.

It was Nelson Mandela who said: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.”

In young people like this, one can see that dream becoming a reality.

I think that it is true to say that this young lady has grown into the lovely perceptive and wise young person that she is today not just because she is intelligent and obviously has a lovely family, but because she has been fortunate enough to receive a good education.

This brought to mind something else that Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon |which you can use to change the world.”

We owe our children and our country this.

* Melanie Veness is the CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business.