Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the TUT
Deputy Vice-Chancellors present
Senior leadership of the Univeristy
Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like to thank you for affording me this platform to address yourselves - a young, diverse and dynamic audience.
This is a significant platform which provides a chance to reflect on and draw inspiration from the resolve, the zeal and the tenacity of our young people, which we have witnessed over generations passed.
Today provides that much needed space for discourse on the crucial issues that affect the youth in our current context, and on how we address these and chart our trajectory towards a future that speaks to the aspirations of every single South African.
For me, it affords the space to look back at a journey traversed by myself and many of my peers, who took it upon ourselves to defy the status quo, to despite the odds against us, tackle and take head-on a giant, and this would ultimately lead to the demise of this beast and bring to an end an era that oppressed the majority of our people.
I speak today of many battles fought and sacrifices made. I speak of The Flowers of the Revolution, as affectionately phrased by our former President of the African National Congress, President Oliver Reginald Tambo, referring to ourselves - a group of young girls and women who sacrificed our youth and joined the ranks of Umkhonto weSizwe to lend our weight to the struggle against apartheid.
Many a times I have had to respond to the question on what we were thinking joining the struggle for liberation at such a tender age. For the majority of us, that was our only reality, that was our only truth, and that was our burden of existence; history had chosen the path for us and we simply could not spare ourselves in the battle to emancipate ourselves, our people and future generations to come.
Today presents a set of its own complexities and existential obligations for our young people and as such, a conference of this nature is an apt space to start deliberating on these. I commend you for taking the first step in taking this discourse forward.
In the words of Martinique-born Afro-Caribbean psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary and writer Frantz Fanon, "Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it". Looking in as an outsider to this platform, this very conference strongly signifies your commitment to fulfilling the mission of your generation.
When I received the invitation to deliver an address on the history of the country, the challenges faced by the youth of today and on the role of today's youth in the reconstruction and development of our country, I simply had to prioritise this engagement as I consider it as my obligation to cultivate and nurture our country's future leadership as we build our tomorrow today.
Giving a political lecture to the National Assembly on the origin and background of the African National Congress earlier this year, President Jacob Zuma spoke at length on the issue of land dispossession in South Africa, from the arrival of Jan Van Riebeck, to the South African Act of 1910 that established a union of South Africa. He spoke of the disdain with which Africans were treated in all of South Africa's history when they resisted colonisation and human degradation.
The President went on to reflect on where we are today as a country and a nation with an illustrious history as warriors for justice, peace and freedom. The history of South Africa, that of resistance, that of solidarity, that of justice and peace; has the youth at the centre of its leadership.
Looking back into the history of South Africa, it is evident that the youth have been central engineers for social change. The participation of young people in the liberation struggle preceded the student uprising of June 16, 1976. Young people had been participating in numerous political campaigns in response to measures and laws affecting black people before the formation of the ANC Youth League in 1944.
Some of the most important figures that assumed political activity at a very young age include:
The generation of young leaders that would rise to prominence and dominate our political life from the 1930s, for more than six decades includes Peter Mda, Anton Lembede, Yusuf Dadoo, Joe Slovo, Oliver Tambo, Albertina Sisulu, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Ray Alexandra, Lilian Ngoyi, IB Taba and Robert Sobukwe. They simply changed the face of the national liberation struggle through their vigour and indomitable spirit.
These leaders were followed in the 1970s by the likes of Steve Biko and Rick Turner, who inspired the thousands of young people who played active roles in the Durban strikes of 1973 and the 1976 student uprising, events that served as catalysts that brought about changes that led to our freedom.
Today's youth have a different battle to wage. The type of marginalisation faced by youth necessitates targeted interventions that enable young people's active participation and engagement in both the society and the economy.
Economic marginalisation continues to manifest in high youth unemployment, with a job-scarce environment forcing youth to queue for lengthy periods before entering the job market. In the process of queueing for employment, a huge number of our youth find themselves marginalised from their communities, unable to find a way to engage meaningfully with society.
In this period, able bodied young people fall through the social assistance package, though on its own undesirable, leading to destitution. Only a small number of unemployed youth qualify for the Unemployment Insurance Fund, but that only covers those who have already held a job and only for a limited period, excluding the majority of unemployed youth.
Research conducted by the Institute of Security Studies indicates young people are ranked high as victims and perpetrators of crime. Young people's risky behaviour leads to morbidity and mortality rates that are higher than that of the population, facing the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates and HIV incidence.
In 2013, of the total 5 698 deaths in South Africa due to transport, 2 515 were among youth, revealing that 44% of all traffic accident deaths in the country occurred among the youth.
Similarly, of the total number of deaths due to assault and intentional self-harm in the country, 69% and 59% of them, respectively, occurred among those aged 15-34 years. These are but some of the challenges our modern day youth need to tackle.
Regardless of all the obstacles highlighted, not all is bleak for the youth of this country. Government has formed institutions designed to address the pressing issues of the youth, with the National Youth Policy recently signed into law by the President further placed to unleash the potential of our young people. Led by the Deputy Minister in the Presidency, this policy has been informed by an extensive study of youth issues, and provides dictates on how to approach and respond to these issues.
The Department of Public Service and Administration, which I lead as Deputy Minister, continues through the human resources development strategic framework, to provide for the promotion of learnerships and internships as part of a strategy for capacity development, in terms of which non-graduate youth and graduates are exposed to practical work on programmes of their choice or as guided by their academic achievements.
The internship programme is an annualised programme, with participants given the exposure for that twelve months programme. Since inception, the programme has enrolled quite a number of participants which individual departments may account for.
As part of the drive to absorb young graduates and school leavers, the National School of Government is building capacity through partnerships with various stakeholders, paying particular attention to, training of mentors; induction for interns and learners; rolling out programmes such as financial management for non-financial managers; legislative and regulatory frameworks in the public service; as well as Public Service Career Open Days for schools in which learners will be encouraged to enter the public service and to pursue a career of choice.
Notwithstanding the pervasive legacy of violence, extreme inequality and social dislocation that our country inherited; the onus is upon each and every one of us to strive for better, to sow seeds that build the future we want to see.
As I conclude, I quote the words of Dr Martin Luther King Junior on the level of awareness and actions required for an effective social change:
"One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change."
I trust you will remain awake throughout your deliberations today and beyond; awake to the reality of who we are, where we are from and the change we need to enforce to create a long lasting legacy for generations to come.
I thank you.