Youth stand up to be counted

sa youth

Young people have urged government to involve them in policy making platforms and decisions that are aimed at addressing issues that affect them.

The youth made the call during their interaction with the Deputy Minister of Social Development, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, at an event to commemorate World Population Day (WPD).

A group of 50 youth community leaders from around the country spent the day with the deputy minister, where they got a chance to detail the challenges they face in their communities.

The youth had spent Thursday locked in a workshop to identify the challenges, and map out solutions on how the Department of Social Development can help them.

Samuel Shabalala is one of the youth who attended the workshop at the WPD event.

Speaking to SAnews, he said there was a need to create communities with strong structures to support adolescents and youth, including those with disabilities.

“There’s a great need for positive role models and mentorship programmes to be decentralised to local communities. Government should provide platforms with positive impact in communities,” said Shabalala.

The main challenges identified by the youth include gender based violence, drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, poverty and lack of adequate financial support, which often lead to intergenerational relationships.

As such, Lebogang Letsoalo, who hails from Gauteng, recommended an on-going engagement between the youth, parents, educators and policy makers. She also recommended the development of formal structures to engage and support young people, especially those in child-headed households, as well as engaging traditional leaders to address the problem of forced marriages.

Involving the youth so keenly in this year’s WPD celebrations is part of the UNFPA’s focus on adolescent well-being, and it is in keeping with this year’s theme of ‘Investing in Young People’.

The UNFPA wants world leaders to think about including a youth goal in the post-2015 development agenda, after the Millennium Development Goals deadline has passed.

Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu said she welcomed the platform to engage the youth, as it was also an opportunity to remind young people of the obligations and responsibilities they have to the country and its people.

“If they don’t understand that they are the dividends that we want to collect from and declare later in the coming years and that they have a responsibility, and us as government communicating and investing in youth programmes, then we don’t have a future. It’s days like this that allow us to remind the youth about their obligations,” the deputy minister said.

Caring for youth

She said ensuring the success and well-being of youth was the responsibility of every department, including Social Development, which has a youth directorate.

“Social Development is responsible for social services and our responsibility is to pick up youth that falls along the way – whether they are in conflict with the law, abusing drugs and alcohol or young people that have been trafficked.

“It is our responsibility to partner with them and provide services like rehabilitation to get them back into society, so that we can all benefit from them being part of this world,” she said.

UNFPA Country Representative, Dr Esther Muia, said investing in young people is an opportunity for rapid growth and a “quick win” for the country.

“It’s not the large population that causes unemployment. That’s why we said let us invest in this large population because it’s an opportunity that can turn the tables. We know that a better educated and a better prepared youth population is more likely to be fully employed and therefore more productive because the opportunities are there.

“It is about how well prepared and how skilled the young people are [to get them] ready to take up these challenges that are there,” said Muia.

Sharing some youth programmes offered by the National Youth Development Agency, Zweli Mahlangu encouraged the youth to act on their dreams.

“You have to get noticed. To get noticed, you must attract attention. To attract attention, you must be distinctive. To be distinctive, you must be known for results.

“Search for an opportunity and luck will show up and don’t set standards for yourself but go beyond what you can achieve,” Mahlangu told young people. –