The kids are not alright

Rhodes>Perspective>2013 Archive

Oh, the kids these days. They get a bad reputation and a lot of "eishes". Where are the leaders, people ask. Where are the politically conscious intellectual activists of the variety that was so common during the Struggle?

Seth Mazibuko, one of the youngest June 16 leaders of the Soweto uprising, turns 53 tomorrow He is worried. The kids are not okay, he says. "We are in a moral crisis," he says. Any political progress the country might have made, he says, has not been matched by growth of values and principles. But he does not blame the young generation.

"Our children are very vulnerable at the moment. We are bringing them up in a society where corruption is comfortable, so they learn that corruption is okay." Parents do not lead by example, and people in power - the leaders are not leading well. If the youth are letting South Africa down, it's because South Africa is also letting them down.

The purported "lack" of youth leadership is the sign of a culture that does not foster initiative, does not provide opportunities to lead, does not teach children to be socially responsible, or to strive to lead, Mazibuko argues. He now runs the June 16 Youth Development Foundation.

The education system does not teach leadership the way the American system does, says Jenni Gobind, a management professor at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Student group involvement or community leadership is not stressed, nor is it a criterion for entering universities. Schools do offer life orientation where topics like sexual health and community work are touched upon, but most leadership training happens postgrad, she says. But the leadership gap is not just with young people.

The F leaders in power today also have their problems, she says, citing the ANC Youth League's ;- financial problems as an example. Broken family structures, with missing par ents, or children raised ' by grandparents, drugs, HIV/Aids, exposure to violence, all these social problems reflect in what older people might complain about as a disaffected youth.

Instead of blaming the youth, older people need to reach out and mentor and help, Gobind says. Too often people are concerned the youth will replace them, but mentoring and creating new leaders will build an army beside you, she says. At a critical meeting held to discuss art funding in South Africa a few months ago, most arts organisation leaders said the most inspiring part of the meeting was hearing from young artists.

One of them was Banele Lukhele, 22, who crowd-sourced the funds to publish her first book while at university and now is looking to start a literature organisation to help other young writers. But Lukhele needs help. "I can never get a seat at the grown-ups' table, and however many good ideas "I have, how can I be taken seriously without a mentor's help?" she said at the forum.

Where we see the most leadership and interest is in the business and corporate world, says Ben van der Merwe, a senior researcher at the Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership. Money and material gain lead to a huge interest in MBA and BCom degrees, he says, whereas more rounded business leadership that takes into account social and environmental factors is not taught.

Being young during the Struggle was not the same as being young today, Mazibuko says. He has a daughter, 24, and a son, 22. His hope for them: that South Africa stops giving young people a hard time for their ills.

YOUTH LEADER Q&A THE STAR interviewed six young leaders from different fields in Joburg to find out what leadership means to them. Each was asked to consider what specific challenges their generation faces before answering the big question: "Are the kids all right?" Their answers, show they've given their role some serious thought.

SIZWE MKWANAZI, 19 Mkwanazi is a third-year UJ student from Mpumalanga who got his start as a leader early on as a member of his learner representative council (LRC) in Grade 8. Today he is the president of Enactus at his campus, an organisation that works to foster entrepreneurship in communities.

He also founded Youth for Action, which works in Mpumalanga to help young people take advantage of the opportunities available to them — it sources bursaries and sponsors university tours so that youngsters can see what tertiary options are available to them. What does being a young leader mean to you? A leader, especially a young leader, should see things differently and impact on others. A leader should be able to know how to talk to diverse people and give them ideas.

Does the South African education system foster leadership? The system allows you to be creative, it gives you a platform to be the leader you want to be. When I was on the school LRC, we had a number of workshops and they taught us how to approach learners, correct what was done wrong, like vandalism, and we were taught time management skills.

What challenges do today's youth face? People are getting a lot of peer pressure, they tend to listen to their influential friends, their parents, their teachers. Like when choosing subject areas, your parents tell you to be a doctor, your teacher tells you to study chemistry, your friend might say you can't do it, but what do you want? Your opinion gets lost.

The other thing is ignorance, they wouldn't want to know what was what. There are so many opportunities like recruitment days through programmes like Enactus, but they don't always take advantage of the opportunities they have. Even reading the news, they just don't want to know. Are the kids all right? I wouldn't say they're all right.

This trend called izikhothane, which means to be fashionable and showing off and be materialistic even when you have nothing at home. People are looking for material instead of selffulfilment. People should start businesses, but our young continue to seek employment in traditional ways. I'm happy young people want higher education, but they must seek all the opportunities, not wait.

TEBOGO RADEBE, 25 Radebe organises book clubs, visual arts competitions and poetry sessions as part of Blaq Aesthetics in Soweto. He also runs children's book club meetings in neighbourhood libraries and works on his own poetry.

Blaq Aesthetics was born out of a group of young artists in Soweto who wanted to teach arts as a means of expression and political influence. What does it mean to be a young leader? It means having a strong sense of altruism and selflessness. I have to have the drive to initiate and fill gaps where they exist. It means opening our experiences to our local environments and coming up with innovative alternatives for society. You must try to inspire unity and hope and unite people to a common vision that benefits a common cause.

The book club makes literature accessible to youth and engages parents and children. It's arts as education. Does the South African education system foster leadership? Our schooling isn't that flexible and it isn't relevant or accessible enough to young people.

It creates personalities that are expectant and dependent and it doesn't teach a sense of initiative. The education system passes ideas that are foreign. You open books and find British children in them. We need a more dynamic school system. What challenges do today's youth face? We have ideas, the challenge is we have an education system that kills our sense of doing anything about it. The means we express ourselves with seem foreign to the older generation.

Whenever you come up with new ideas that seek to challenge social order, it seems foreign to them. People don't take you seriously and they only give you a seat at the table when you acquire material things like cars, a family and that middle-class outlook. We need mentoring and help. Are the kids all right? No, they're not all right.

We live within sociopolitical conditions filled with unfit parents, the environment is unequal, there's still perceptions around race. Parents don't have the time to teach their kids, so they accord that to the education system, which is flawed, and no one instils values.

ROBIN COOK, 21 Cook is completing a degree in zoology and ecology at Wits University. He is the president of RhinoSA, which serves as an umbrella organisation educating pupils about rhino poaching and teaches them to become rhino ambassadors and start their own fund-raising and awareness campaigns under the banner and financial management of RhinoSA.

Cook described himself as "the quiet, nature-loving kid" in high school but said being president of RhinoSA changed his outlook. What does being a young leader mean to you? Being a leader is a way to portray what you believe. If you have vision, a passion, it's a way to pass on your ideas to the younger kids.

I always thought a leader was a loud, bossy person, but now that I have had the chance to try it, I learnt it's about getting everyone's opinion and moving together to the goal you're working towards. Does the South African education system foster leadership? Not at all.

When I was a prefect at my high school, I remember being terrified to do the prayer on stage. When I started doing public speaking with RhinoSA I would hold a piece of paper and shake, but now talking even in front of 5 000 people doesn't bother me. Unless you did public speaking, you never got that opportunity in school. It's almost seen as a loser-type tag to want to do something in the new generation.

With the little ones who step forward with RhinoSA, they're laughed at. I rarely see people my age who are passionate about the environment. What challenges do today's youth face? Getting their peers involved. You have this dream and you find others don't have the same dream.

People don't show up at events, even if they said they really wanted to join. With the youth there's always exams, parents, social things and transport. It's hard to get kids who live all over to one function or meeting to plan something. And because transport is so hard, they might not feel involved. Some kids I speak to, it's about survival.

Are the kids all right? Yes, I think they are. I think there's moulding to be done and that's what we try to do with RhinoSA. They're passionate to do these things, they just need to be given the opportunities. Kwezilomso Mbandazayo, 26 Mbandazayo has been involved in feminist activism and black consciousness since her time studying at Rhodes University.

She has been involved with anti-sexual violence group One in Nine since its inception in 2006 during President Jacob Zuma's rape trial. She continues to work with One in Nine and is an organiser of the new Joburg Pride for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer identities.

What does being a young leader mean to you? I'm not sure what leadership is; the politics I lean toward are more about flat, collective leadership. I'm interested in disturbing the one leader at the top idea. It's very important for me to say I don't do things to try to be altruistic. The world is a f*****-up place and I don't want to live in a place like this. It's a selfish desire to want the world to change to look more like the one I want to live in. In order to change society, one needs to engage in disturbing the structure.

Does the South African education system foster leadership? In our current context, it's a luxury to be walking around in a body such as mine to not engage in any way to change the system. We're in a place where we don't understand a lot of things, like patriarchy and race, and our interventions are not targeting the system. They're treating the symptoms.

What challenges do today's youth face? Our state discourages questioning, protest and resistance. We need consciousness, you need to actively seek knowledge that goes against what you're fed. The youth of 1976 spent a lot of time learning black consciousness and politics. In 1976 you had a clear system of oppression that wasn't ambiguous in any way. But people don't look at the ANC government and step back and say: "But..." We're breeding youth that are unthinking, illiterate.

Are the kids all right? The white ones are. What are the numbers for infant mortalities, childhood sexual abuse, experiencing violence from a young age? Who's parenting? And transport? We still have the geography and forces of apartheid. It's not popular to talk about racism in South Africa any more.

By: Karen Chen