Guest Column

Youth activism and literacy

2017-06-11 06:10
Society must play an active role in enabling young people to become responsible citizens.

Society must play an active role in enabling young people to become responsible citizens.

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Thulile Seleka

Something interesting has re-emerged in our country, which carries enormous influence and inspiration: youth power. We remember traces of it from the 1976 uprisings and early 1980s, but in 2015, at a critical time, youth activism awakened once again and university students practically brought the country to a standstill with #FeesMustFall.

Jane Lyne-Kritzinger, managing director of Youth Dynamix, explains that powerful youth activism movements like the one we witnessed in October 2015 will become the trend. She explains further that young people will easily unify to create a force to be reckoned with, not just on campuses, but throughout the country through social media – the digital channel they grew up with.

Young people are quickly gaining momentum and becoming catalysts in their families, local communities and society. With a newly discovered confidence and voice, they are able to quickly connect around top issues affecting society and act as self-appointed leaders who are able to change the game and the atmosphere. Determined to reimagine and find solutions to problems in the most fearless ways, despite their circumstances, they find comfort and strength in collective impact.

According to Mandela Rhodes scholar Zukiswa Mqolomba, we have been shown that South Africa’s young people can be a force for social change when their energies are harnessed through conscious activism.

The ball is in their hands

Launched mid-2016 and now a network of over 2 900 individuals nationwide, the Nal’ibali-powered FUNda Leader movement places itself at the centre of this powerful resource, to respond to the literacy challenge in South Africa. Being a FUNda Leader is about taking action in key areas that are particularly pertinent this Youth Month: language, identity and the right to learn. By providing access to literacy materials in different South African languages, as well as training (including mentorship and support), the movement is supporting young people in creating positive literacy change.

To win at literacy change on a large scale, we need to tap into the largest youth power resource we have. Young people as parents, students, professionals, community leaders and volunteers can play a central role as interactive literacy role models.

When children see others around them using literacy in daily life – for example, modelling meaningful uses of reading and writing – they begin to learn about the functional value of print.

But it is more than just modelling. Mediation is at the centre of human existence and in literacy learning is the meaning that is created between a child and another more capable person. When children are coached and mentored by those who are more experienced, and become involved in and communicate around a shared activity, specifically one that the children are keen to be involved in such as the reading and sharing of stories in languages they understand, the children join in and are motivated to learn to read and write themselves.

However, aligning with our young people requires committing adequate resources, skills, access to information, and a clear framework to guide participation and sustained involvement. With the FUNda Leader network, young people are beginning to lead the reading culture revolution and are creating significant shifts in the lives of their children, siblings, extended families, communities, campuses and workplaces.

It is possible to strive towards healthier communities and a thriving society when people stand together as a collective and support youth activism. Young people are then enabled to move forward with even more determination – the ball is in their hands. But society at large needs to play an active role in creating space and enabling young people to be responsible citizens.

Seleka is head of programmes at Nal’ibali

- To join Nal’ibali’s FUNda Leader movement, visit and, email or call the call centre on 021 180 4080

Read more on:    youth


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