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The National Youth Commission

5 July 2000

Recently, the third term of the National Youth Commission started. Some of its pioneers and founders are no longer part of it, and new sailors with a new captain have taken over the custody of the ship. The navigation steers on towards the goal of youth development.

Four years later, we must look at the NYC and ponder whether it has fulfilled the expectations of young people. Much has been said about this and much has been distorted about the NYC.

The formation of the NYC was no error.

For many years the black youth were systematically marginalised and neglected. Because the dared to fight for and bring our emancipation so near, the youth became the eminenr, the youth became the eminent targets of apartheid`s forces of repression. A brazenly cruel political and socio-economic programme was embarked upon to break them materially and spiritually. Needless to say, the worst victims of this crime were the black youth, especially those from poor backgrounds, the female, rural and disabled youth.

Perhaps, the greatest crime committed against the youth and black people in general was the denial of access to education and training.

No wonder the black youth were found at the forefront of struggle. For them, the defeat of apartheid was everything to live for. With it came the hope that a free South Africa would, when embarking upon its reconstruction and development, also integrate into this the development of youth.

This way, the youth pinned their hope on the conviction that their interests were as inseparable from those of their entire people as the interests of the nation as a whole were inseparable from those of the youth.

Youth development is therefore neither a false notion nor a programme perched precariously within the RDP. It is an integral element of the fundamental addressing of the socio-economic grievance of black people in general and Africans in particular. It is critically about empowering and preparing the generations of the future to fulfil their historic responsibilities at the helm of our national and continental renaissance!

Although freedom means responsns responsibility, it is does mean a better life for the youth. Hence, the nation must harness and marshal all its resources, human and material, public and private, to address their socio-economic plight.

It is expected that any youth development programme, therefore, would be integrated, comprehensive and holistic, targeted, principally, at the most disadvantaged sectors of youth as mentioned above.

The NYC was, therefore, a government contribution, among others, towards the fulfilment of this challenge. It must be viewed together with the work done by other government departments whose primary constituency is youth, such as the departments of education, sports, arts and culture.

In and by itself alone, the NYC was never meant to become a panacea to youth marginalisation. Precisely because it does and cannot possess all the resources and capacity required for this task, it cannot alone fulfil all youth aspirations. It has a responsibility to relate with government departments, to advocate in and lobby them for youth development and tap into their resources and programmes in pursuit of its mandate. It must ensure that government integrates youth development into its everyday work.

This task it has achieved through the establishment of the Inter-departmental committee (IDC) involving all departments. However, the snag continues to be the fact that other departments delegate junior public servants to represe represent them in the IDC. Sure, some departments still do not take the challenge of youth development serious.

At the same time, the NYC has made great strides in establishing partnerships with other institutions such as with the University of Venda which offers a youth development course for youth development workers and activists, Love Life for HIV/AIDS, and other SABC programmes targeted at youth education.

Through US-AID, the SA-USA Bi-national Commission (BNC) and the Commonwealth Youth Programme, the NYC is mobilising foreign resources for the pursuit of youth development.

Through the National Youth Policy formulation process, the NYC developed a commendable culture and practice of intensive consultation with the youth constituency. This enables youth organisations to influence the work of the NYC and know what it is doing.

The biggest constraints faced by the NYC thus far, which require a careful and detailed response to are, among others, that

  • government departments sometimes do not co-operate with it in a manner that will enhance youth development,
  • it does not have sufficient resources to pursue its mandate appropriately,
  • relations with provinces have not been clear and well defined, with some provinces having Youth Commissions and others not,
  • it does not have implementing powers, yet there are huge expectations,
  • it has not receit has not received positive publicity, perhaps in large part because generally the media has a negative attitude on young people.

Nonetheless, despite these problems, the NYC has successfully achieved a great part of its initial mandate, and well in time.

As new Commissioners take office, they found a well-oiled machinery with a clear vision, programmes and relations. Some of its achievements include,

  • the consultative and inclusive process of drafting the National Youth Service Programme White Paper which received the overwhelming support from youth organisations and youth in general. As it is, the White Paper is now at Cabinet level waiting to be adopted so that it can also be legislated and youth service programmes can start,
  • it has successfully launched a national HIV/AIDS programme which entails the Young Positive Living Ambassadors, capacity building for young HIV/AIDS activists, participation in the government led South African Youth Aids Partnership, and other joint programmes with the SABC TV programme (Take Five), LoveLife, and others,
  • it has launched a Youth Information Service, internet and toll-free line, to meet the information needs of youth,
  • it runs capacity building programmes for the youth in partnership with UNISA, University of Venda, and the Flemish government,
  • it participated in the development of the youth employment and entrepreneurshtrepreneurship strategy.

The NYC could not create jobs. This was neither its mandate nor did it have any capacity to do so, even if it wanted to. The NYC is just a commission, with a specific mandate and finite resources. Its job, we have stated above, is to advocate and lobby for youth development programmes to be integrated into the broader reconstruction and development of South Africa.

To achieve its mandate and fulfil the ever-great and genuine aspirations of the South African youth, it must form partnerships - with government departments, other government institutions, the public and private sectors, and with the youth themselves!

Surely, there is need to review the mandate and powers of the NYC and substantially restructure it, based on the experience of the last four years, and the expectations that have followed it, together with the fact that i that it has fulfilled a great part of its initial mandate.

As the new Commissioners begin their term, the challenges they will face include,

  • completing the restructuring process, especially with regards to mandate, powers and relations with provinces,
  • increasing its resources,
  • finalising the national youth service process,
  • intensifying the fight against HIV/AIDS, among others by, together with the SAYC, strengthening the co-ordination of the youth partnership,
  • strengthening its relations with the SAYC, and
  • improving its communication strategy in order to ensure that it is able to communicate its programmes with young people.

Certainly, the ship sails on. The needs of youth are many, varied and legitimate. The NYC is making a commendable input towards addressing them. We can salute Hlengiwe Bhengu and those with whom she pioneered the NYC for their sterling contribution in the course for youth development.

Malusi Gigaba
President
African National Congress Youth League