When I graduated in 2012 with a B.A. degree in international relations and diplomacy from the University of the Free State, I really thought the world would open up for me.
Having grown up poor in Kroonstad in the Free State, where there were too few jobs for young people, my family and I believed that an education would lead me towards a better life. Instead I spent four years being unemployed, joining 45% of South Africa’s youth.
Lack of opportunities led me to activism
I began to critically reflect on my contribution towards the development of society. Instead of looking outside for a job, I decided to look at my area and what I could do to help make a difference. This led me to participating in a number of youth development initiatives including the ACTIVATE! Leadership and Public Innovation training programme and the Young African Leaders Initiative.
While my experience working with these youth development and leadership initiatives has greatly empowered and equipped me to contribute meaningfully towards the development of my community, it has also highlighted the need for society to create an enabling environment for civic engagement among youth in general.
Young people feel left out of decision-making in this country
Through my work, I realised that young people feel alienated from the country’s democratic process. The common notion among young South Africans I’ve met through my work is, “Why should I continue to vote if I remain unemployed and poor after over 20 years of democracy?” In my community, it’s common to see youngsters aimlessly hanging around corners and spaza shops.
My participation in the above-stated youth development and leadership initiatives empowered me to realise that I have a role to play in the development of my own community. I have not allowed my socio-economic status to dictate my contribution towards its betterment. I continually draw from my knowledge and experience to serve my community as a facilitator for various development initiatives including Ponelopele Development Solutions and the African Boy Child Initiative.
Young unemployed South Africans are an untapped resource
Young people represent an untapped potential to shape and drive alternative ideas that can ignite creative energy, innovation and movements for social change. Throughout the country there are many inspiring examples of how young people are driving social change through innovation and creativity.
Good Vibez, a brainchild of four childhood friends in Kroonstad in the Free State, is an apt example. The Good Vibez concept is underpinned by a philosophy of using arts, fashion and entertainment to increase the potential of youth to gain employment or earn an income.
Apart from hosting regular markets where local artists, fashion designers and other innovators are given a platform to showcase their products and services, the Good Vibez collective also sells their clothing range at the events. This is just one of the fresh approaches towards addressing socio-economic challenges such as unemployment and poverty in the Free State.
But we as young people cannot do it alone. We need support from the Department of Small Business Development and the NYDA to help us help more people.
Project Demo finds the voices of young people in South Africa, amplifies their stories and turns their cause for change into a reality. Tell them your issue. They’ll take it on and campaign with you.