Black child, you are ­not alone!

2010-06-19 12:39

I recently had an enlightening discussion with a young man at a restaurant in Tshwane.

After realising he was talking to the national president of the Azapo youth league, he said to me: “What are youth leaders doing about the fact that the media seem to be perpetuating the perception that young black people are less interested in education and genuine entrepreneurship, and that all they do is sit around the whole day fishing for short cuts to success?”

While I was still recovering from his initial statement, he added: “Are you guys aware there are many skilled young people who don’t belong to any political party, but are more than willing to contribute to the building of better communities and you guys are failing to appeal to this ­category of young people?”

Agreeing with him, I nevertheless tried to make him understand that the situation he was describing was more complex than it appeared and would require deeper analysis to resolve ­effectively.

Barely a week after this conversation, I stumbled upon a TV interview with a visionary young South African called Billy Guy Bhembe.

Bhembe is a black man who hails from Ekurhuleni.

At 19, he started his own company, which offers a variety of business solutions.

He has also released an audio book titled Black Child It’s Possible, gives motivational talks and does community development work.

One of the things that struck me most about Bhembe was when he was asked what drove him.

He replied: “I speak one language fluently and that is inspiration.”

This was so profound I immediately realised this is exactly where today’s young black leaders are failing – they are simply unable to offer the youth of our country a compelling and uniting vision.

Bhembe’s story is one of pure inspiration and, of course, there are many other young black social ­innovators in our townships and rural areas whose life-changing work will most probably never make news headlines.

Given our history of colonial domination and the sheer power of the media, if black young people continue to be bombarded with images of black failure and mediocrity they will inevitably internalise these negative perceptions and move into adulthood with low self-esteem.

Also, all the macro-social challenges are challenges that young people are grappling with on a daily basis, in particular, young black people.

And, therefore, in order for our social institutions to bring about meaningful change in the lives of our youth they must recognise this fact.

But, ­also, our social institutions will not undergo a voluntarily paradigm shift – it is the duty of ­today’s youth leaders to engage these institutions with the view to making them more responsive to the needs of marginalised young people.

Today’s youth leaders must realise that the ­demographics of young people have changed ­significantly since 1994 and continue to change.

Therefore, youth leaders should review their ­engagement approach and attempt to find more creative ways of mobilising young people to ­tackle the stubborn challenges of racism, poor education, poverty, crime and many others.

In fact, many young people are less interested in the political and ideological waffle that is often sprayed on them by youth leaders.

Instead they are more interested in practical interventions that can address their daily frustrations.In this context, the youth leaders’ biggest task is to break the debilitating belief that the state must be responsible for all aspects of youth ­development.

Leaders have to fight the cancerous tendency to shun hard work, initiative and excellence in favour of short cuts to success.

There are millions of gifted youngsters who roam the streets and thousands of others who are condemned to a miserable existence inside some of our country’s most notorious prisons.

Like Billy Guy Bhembe today and Tsietsi Mashinini and Khotso Seatlholo before him, we must spread the message: black child, it is possible! Black child you can do it!

» Mbele is president of the Azapo Youth League Black child, you are ­not alone!

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