Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Youth Participation



Let me start by thanking the organizers of the event for inviting the Azanian Youth Organisation to partake in such an important topic, especially that we are commemorating 31 years of the tragic shooting of young Black learners who took to the streets to raise their concerns as both learners and members of the Black Community.

I thank the organizers largely because the Chapter 9 institutions such as the National Youth Commission, or any structures in government, tend to sideline any political formation that is not aligned to the political views of the ruling party – thus creating a belief that government and the ruling party are one, all else is an aberration.

Your topic is very relevant, yet I will only single out three words which I believe to be central to this theme.

This word refers to both a state of mind and physical or biological realities. As a state of mind, youth refers to vibrancy, energy and dynamism in an individual, thus we talk of individuals who are young at heart.
At a biologic level, we limit youth to number of years that a person has lived, and then start politicking about the inclusion of people falling within an age group to the ranks of youth. I know that United Nations has its classification, while there is a debate in Azania as to whether to adopt the UN’s classification or stick to ours.

What we all know is that throughout the history of our struggle, young people established themselves as pathfinders, groundbreakers, torchbearers and sacrificial lambs.
During the mid1800th hundred, young people’s impatience with the then rigid cruel politics, lead to the formation of pressure groups around the Eastern Cape. Many historians believe that the first revolutionary movement, Imbumba Yama Nyama (translated to mean, Black Solidarity) was the first sign of the maturity of the Black youth of Azania

Pixley ka Seme was still at his youth when he agitated for change and when he delivered his version of I am an African.
We can single out any period in the history of our revolution; we will always discover that youth always played a pivotal role, a dynamic role and the only role required to advance the course of the struggle.

The Secretary for Political Education of Azapo, Cde Nelvis Qekema, gives an explanation about the key drivers that propel this youth to such lengths, i.e. undermining a bullet and a bomb; undermining torture, intimidation and death. He argues that the state of being youth is both adventurous, explorative, with intellectual curiosity (questioning order of things, seeking new meaning and answers), and experiential. When you are young, you have all the energy, the time, yet nothing to lose. That forms a basis for some of the reasons why our youth is always there at Merafong, Matatiel, Soweto, Pampierstad and everywhere where change is required. Youth has nothing to lose!


Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness teaches that participation is one of the products of selflessness. In BC we learn that, youth drives a political wheel of change largely because of selflessness. Steve Biko dedicated his life to the struggle for the complete emancipation of Black people because he was selfless. The youth of 1976 confronted a bullet with a dustbin lid largely because they were selfless.

The history of the Black Consciousness shows that Black people, lead by Biko, built clinics, built bridges, and schools. They had their own treasury in the form of Zimele Trust. Black Consciousness taught them that Black people can only prosper if they take themselves seriously and start to do for themselves, thus a slogan, Black man you are on your own!

Participation, which at this juncture, refers to community participation, cannot be fulfilled, until and unless there is solid consciousness about the social, economic and political needs of the people.
The youth that Steve Biko was part of, was aware of this need for constant political education – that in BC is termed, Conscientization. It is therefore obvious that the youth of any stage in history requires conscientization that is driven by the material and non-material circumstances of that stage in history.

The youth that Biko was part of was selfless, self-driven, motivated and politically empowered, fed on a diet of BC and Scientific Socialism, thus comparing them with the youth of today becomes not only unfortunate, but unfair.


The word service has been thoroughly overused, misused or abused. By service we largely think of ‘government giving to the people’. This has thwarted what Biko died for. The slogan that says Black man you are On Your Own is not limited to the period that was oppressive, abuse and denigrating, but our period too.

In BC we don’t separate participation from service, nor do we separate service from participation. Political activism is a service to the people, and that is what Biko died offering, that is what Mosibudi Mangena went to Robben Island and exile offering.
Like participation, service provision requires selflessness, conscientization and empowerment of those rendering it.
Today, service provision is mixed with all sorts of corruption, nepotism, and what goes with such anti-revolutionary practices.

Youth Participation through Service

In Azapo we always believe that youth participation in the service of the people starts with the empowerment and development of individual members. BC in the 1970s became not just a school, but a conscience regulator, a heart-beat and a rallying point. Young people leant basic principles of ubuntu through BC. We leant to love ourselves, to have a high esteem of ourselves, to put the interest of the community first, thus concretizing selflessness as an embodiment of a developing nation.

In Azapo we believe that true youth participation can be guided by role models, growing up in the same vicinity, under the same conditions as the young people who are called to action.

However, more affluent Black professionals are currently residing in Towns and Cities of our country, thus the only form of role models that the Black youth has, are the so called Magintsas, those who drive a fleet of German cars, living a very high and fast life. That might partly suggest a reason as why Black youth is seen doing criminal activities than white youth. Perhaps, that might partly suggest reasons as to why STIs are more common in our Black communities than elsewhere in the country.

Empowerment of Black people through Affirmative Action and BEE had a potential of calling Black youth to action, but party political hegemony wormed its way through the system, contaminating such a noble process of redress.

Participation of youth in the programmes organized by an organ of state is largely favouring youth drawn from one political organisation. This has dissipated the energy of many capable young people who do not espouse the ‘required’ political ideology, thus rendering youth participation in activities of social development a one sided approach.

Let’s hope and trust that sanity will prevail in this country, and a process of deepening youth participation in the development of society will be based on the needs of the people, not one party political goals, and let’s further hope that what Steve Biko lived and died for, will be realized through us, in one time.

Funani ka Ntontela

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