‘It’s time we place leadership in the hands of the youth’


Integration of young people into key strategic leadership roles is essential for sustainable economic development and the survival of Africa.

Despite historical evidence of young people’s contributions in driving changes in political systems, they face multiple forms of silent discrimination and limited opportunities to participate in formal and informal leadership roles.

The challenge of youth integration into key strategic leadership roles in South Africa, much like the rest of Africa, has to do with the mistrust and greed of leaders who refuse to charge young people with a responsibility to lead and be part of decision-making processes.

There is alack of youth representation in key strategic positions in the country. South Africa is a youthful nation (it is estimated that more than 36% of the population is between the ages of 14 and 35) and this can be a bedrock for economic growth. Failure to make advances in developing and capacitating young people to take up leadership roles is a woeful delay of the future we aspire to build.

South Africa cannot consider itself as a world leader, considering the excessive looting of state resources, unaccountable government officials and lack of decisive leadership. As a result of suppressing the vibrant participation of young people in leadership positions, a dysfunctional and destructive crop of leaders is prevailing at the expense of young people.

There is a tendency in the business, social and political arenas to reserve valuable young leaders for future leadership roles that may never come into existence. This toxic culture must be dispelled if we are serious about moving from a developmental state to a progressive socioeconomic path. We must encourage a common and shared goal and allow young leaders to develop and advance effective models.

Although a long-term development framework, the African Union’s Agenda 2063 promises a positive future but this cannot be guaranteed without young leaders taking full ownership of the framework. After all, they are the ones who will still be around to account for the success or failure of Agenda 2063.

Disruption of youth participation can no longer be left unattended by business and in institutions of learning, religion and politics. Young people must sit on boards, college councils and cabinets.

Business and government must prioritise bringing young people to work: by restructuring labour market dynamics that often miss the opportunity to groom young people in rural areas, teaching them life skills beyond formal qualifications and entrusting them with leadership roles. Business, government and universities must establish partnerships tasked with identifying young people in and outside institutions of higher learning. Part of this task must involve research units that will facilitate the programmes by conducting needs assessments, planning, implementation and evaluation. The initiative should enable and promote a climate of healthy youth development.

A national commitment and greater investment in youth initiatives should take priority. Policymakers and governments must accelerate leadership programmes in government and other sectors. Each company should set up mechanisms to adopt a creative policy aimed at developing young leaders who will drive the attainment of sustainable goals. This approach should enable healthy dialogue, draw in energetic young employees and encourage participation by young people.

The strength demonstrated by dedicated young people should be recognised in our spaces. Community leaders and politicians must work with young people and welcome new ideas, especially as our world changes and technology continues to advance. Empowering young people and integrating them into key strategic leadership roles begins when the older people acknowledge the opportunities presented to us by youth participation, transmission of knowledge and trusting youth with achieving sustainable development goals. It is all possible and it can be done if we have the right intentions.

Thabo Makwakwa is registered at Unisa for an honours degree in sociology. In 2018, he was awarded a bursary by the Africa America Institute to study Thought Leadership for Africa’s Renewal at the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute

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