When looking at global challenges, it is often said that those who experience the biggest burden are those who are the most vulnerable. These marginalised people and communities were discussed at a Mail & Guardian and City of Johannesburg Critical Thinking Forum on June 21 2016 in Johannesburg.
In a panel discussion moderated by Tsepiso Makwetla, news and current affairs anchor for the SABC, topics encompassed the ongoing issues of youth unemployment, illiteracy and the legacy of so many. This includes those who lost their lives on June 16, 17 and 18 1976, events which make June such an important month, for the youth.
According to Simon Molefe, project manager of the Gauteng City Region Academy, it is vital to work towards inter-generational linkage, based on a chain with sound principles. He said it is the responsibility of all generations to take social cohesion forward and work together towards uplifting citizens of all ages, backgrounds and circumstances.
“The nineties generation is very important now in terms of the impact they can make,” said Molefe. “They now hold executive and senior positions in the private sector and government, and they need to come back and take their rightful space and make their contribution.
“This generation has experienced so much over the past 22 years. They probably voted for the first time, saw the release of Nelson Mandela, and experienced the victory of freedom. The bottom line is they [could] play a critical role in youth development, one of which could be adopting a youth programme.
“They are quite capable of setting and leading agendas — even if not trained to lead immediately. Up to 90% of this generation of leaders no longer live in the townships — the black middle class has moved to suburbia. We need to sort out this gap and encourage their role in mentorship.”
Jak Koseff, special advisor to the mayoral office and director of the City of Johannesburg’s integrated social development policy, planning and research, outlined the many programmes the city has that help to develop the youth and vulnerable communities.
He is the leader of the Vulindlel’eJozi programme, which has confirmed once more that a lack of relevant skills and qualifications remains a major barrier to economic participation.
“This is a major project for the City of Johannesburg and [is] championed by Mayor Parks Tau,” says Koseff. “A R150-million grant has been made available to expand the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator to help develop a multi-channel programme for the youth.”
Harambee is directly involved in Vulindlel’eJozi, as well as being the aggregator and alignment vehicle for some of the city’s other programmes such as SmartStart, Digital Ambassdors and Massive Open Online Varsity (Moov).
“We need to build the literacy and skills in micro-franchising, which is where Moov fits in,” said Koseff. “Moov provides video-enabled learning sites attached to eight libraries, with five more to open.
“We have also partnered with Microsoft to deliver skills. We have established a demand-led programme with the department of education — a matric re-write programme especially for children who achieved low scores, or did maths literature instead of mathematics. We provide the interventions.
“Moov contains very powerful videos that enable learners to zone in on what allow them to pass exams much faster.”
Koseff described container-based micro malls as another area for youth and SMME empowerment, through providing benefits throughout the value chain, such as bringing together the products of other micro enterprises.
“My personal driver is solving complex problems everyone else has given up on — problems that are systemic and require systematic solution unravelling. Where a problem can be solved, it then needs to be applied at a realistic scale. Once the prototype has been validated, then it can be rolled out. A lot of people in the non-profit sector see changes one-by-one, but for me it has to be systematic, large-scale change.
“I get annoyed by a culture of lamentation — there are many varied players who need to be part of a solution.”
Koseff said he deals with chaos on a daily basis, but addressing it is the only responsible way to contribute as effectively as possible. “Yes, I am seeing programmes at a large and smaller scale that are making a real difference.”
Overcoming life’s hurdles, especially if the person is already marginalised, becomes even more challenging where they deal with any disability. Being unusual in any way, be it through albinism or a physical or mental problem, leads to different levels of discrimination and exclusion of the “differently enabled”.
“When I was 15 years old, two guys in my school were fighting and I was hit by a stray bullet, which rendered me a paraplegic,” said Thuli Matlala, a working mother and corporate social investment manager.
“I experienced discrimination which happened at an age when I was already vulnerable, like any other teenager. I felt robbed. I was depressed, and had to go through huge mental introspection and alternating attitudes to sort out my mind-set.
“I came to realise that I am differently-abled and that my wheelchair does not define me and disability does not own me. My background is corporate social responsibility and a love for people development. This is what defined me,” said Matlala.
“Youth with any disadvantage need to know opportunities exist and must grab them. You are not disabled — get out there. We can take the city forward and profile it and showcase it to the rest of the country.”
Matlala said that she had learned so much as a person as a result of being in a wheelchair, and stressed that your background does not define you — it is what comes from inside.
“Have a vision and seek mentorship. Every youth of this country needs to be mentored,” she concluded.
Understand and collaborate
“I was very fortunate to be part of the generation of 1980, as this generation learnt so much from the struggle,” said activist Comrade Jabu Lancelot Benjamin Kumalo. “There is no way you can bring about change in society without collaboration between teachers, parents and associates. They are instrumental.
“Education continues to be part of the struggle. Today’s democratic youth need to realise that it is unforgivable that there are still parents and grandparents that cannot read a doctor’s prescription. It is the youth’s skills that are required to help transform our democracy,” he concluded.
Key quotes from the forum
“We need to start sensitising ourselves and reflect on and address marginalised communities, including vulnerable youth, veterans, the disabled and our attitude towards foreigners and albinos.” — Dudu Maseko, executive director for community development, City of Johannesburg
“After so many years there are still people who cannot read and write. Their life skills, however, need prior learning recognition and [they] don’t expect or require literacy. We need to go into communities and ask the right questions. Age is no basis for stopping ongoing learning.” — Berenice “Barry” Swarts, community developer, City of Johannesburg
“Youth are already in groups. We want these groups to come together and form something tangible. Work with them and develop their skills.” — Panelist Sibusiso Kwanini
“I have seen that what healed people above all is the amount of love they receive,” he said. “No one can forget or ignore love. Work with people and you’ll get better. My additional advice to youth is that if you want to be somebody, stand up and be accountable.” — Local radio and television personality and founder of the Dr Love Foundation, Dr Mveleli Gqwede