We need to be critical of youth advisors and youth desks

2015-06-02 15:57

While we are still new and fresh into June, a month dedicated to SA’s youth, it’s important that we put under scrutiny the functions of many youth advisors (officers) placed in various municipalities. With the June 16 festivities coming soon, we are likely to hear about youth advisors or desks being used as examples of government’s commitment to youth empowerment. Need I say what will happen after the commemoration!

The portfolio of youth advisory must receive public scrutiny, given the continued disempowerment that characterises our youth, especially in impoverished areas. Equally questionable is also the criteria used to determine who is fit to head the youth portfolio. Of course, we can’t let the question of mandate escape our concerns.

This is serious.


Political affiliation, and its attendant rewards, continues to offend young people with mediocre, if not imposed, leadership. We are told there’s a youth desk, but do we ever get to see the actions of that youth desk? Do we even need that desk, given the many institutions set up with the youth as their niche?

But seeing that we have the desks, necessary questions that must follow are:

  • How was the person tasked with the issues of young people appointed?
  • What leadership qualities does this person have? What makes the person credible to be the voice of young people?
  • Does the person embody what we as the youth aspire to become?
  • What is the highest education level of this person?

Youth advisory must not be a position reserved for politically connected comrades as it seems to be at the moment. To lead the youth, we don’t need to locate ourselves within formal party politics. Youth leadership is far bigger than party politics and must be seen in the broader scope of leadership. Ethical conduct, vision, communication and servant leadership should not be compromised.


As young people, we need to not only have access to these youth advisors. We must also be able to evaluate their performance and where necessary, make recommendations regarding their portfolio. Transparency is one of the pillars of good governance. Young people, therefore, have a right to know the budget of the various youth desks in their municipalities or provincial governments.

Key questions:

  • Of the total budget allocated, how much did the youth desk spend and what were the areas of expenditure?
  • What informed spending on those areas, i.e. overwhelming youth complaints about supporting arts and culture would be a budgetary predicate for matters such as hosting poetry events, launching and supporting book clubs, etc.
  • In cases of support given to individuals, what’s the profile of those individuals and what value will their ideas add to the broader youth community?

These and many other customised questions will go a long way in making the financial behaviours of youth desks to be about the youth in principle and deeds, regardless of political views. Additionally, reports must be made available to the youth community to judge for themselves what the youth desks are doing.


With every portfolio it’s only natural to ask: what exactly does it cover. Who influences the mandate? I may be ignorant on this one, but I haven’t heard of a youth consultation meeting to address the scope and mandate of the youth advisor. Perhaps even matters of relevance or necessity could arise out of such meetings. This is because, frankly, the very existence of youth desks leads to duplication. The NYDA is supposed to offer financial support. SEDA exists to provide the much needed business advice. SEFA assists with funding. We can’t be punished to ask:

  • What exactly do youth advisors do?
  • Are they present in all youth-related functions or only those with political value?
  • Does the scope include serious local and global phenomena such as the cultivation and promotion of entrepreneurship, environmental awareness, lifestyle questions, education and women empowerment, to mention just a few?


In criticising any portfolio we need to study the question of capacity and related phenomena affecting the portfolio. Capacity is often correctly viewed in the same light as legitimacy. That is, what is seen as legitimate is more likely to be capacitated. Consequently, it can be unfair to subject any youth advisor to robust scrutiny without raising the question of capacity. In this regard, we might as well ask:

  • Does the youth desk receive all the support it needs to extend its mandate beyond the good-worded, good-looking paper?
  • Do municipalities and provinces allocate reasonable resources for youth desks to operate effectively?
  • How fairly distributed is this support? Does it favour certain spheres while ignoring others?

There’s a tendency in the country to pacify anger by establishing some commission, ministry or task team for any matter that evokes harsh criticism. If people are angry that women empowerment is on a tortoise pace, we respond by setting up a ministry so that we may calm the frustrations down.

In this context, we must guard against the use of the youth tag by politicians to appear politically smart by launching youth desks with no intention to see them flourish. This means we should go beyond whether there’s a youth advisory office to whether such an office is given platform to express itself concretely and in a manner that addresses geopolitical youth topics. After all, mere existence of matter is not in itself a credible instrument to measure it. Youth leaders can’t only be important in election periods and internal party leadership struggles.

In conclusion I’d be the first to admit that we may be asking for the impossible, given the state of our government institutions, which lack the very fundamentals we may be demanding of youth desks.

However, if we avoid making these calls, we’ll be complicit in the declining standards of public leadership.

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