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As painful as this may sound for my fellow cadres, this country’s political leadership doesn’t really grasps the idea of sustainable development. What’s more weird is that we are also beginning to accept it as a perfect norm. Reality is; our leaders are not obsessed with delivering excellent initiatives that bring about real empowerment for the youth. Youth development has been reduced to some one-hit-wonders. I truly fear for the lives of my fellow young people as we gradually move towards the local municipal elections.

Over the years of being in the youth development space, there are couple of personal and corporate lessons I have harnessed which I will always cherish. However there are also some challenges I have encountered with the system of development in the country which I believe that this short thought piece will highlight only a single aspect of the bigger problem.

One big monster slowing down and crippling youth development SA is “a lack of political.” Holy Scriptures advises us that “where there is a will, there is a way.” I think one perfect example to show that our leaders lack a political will to address matters of national importance is with the #FeesMustFall movement. The movement was literally silenced and has become a subject of the past. There’s really no hope for us to look forward to free education in our lifetime. There’s this new culture within our leaders of becoming defensive in their response to real challenges facing young people. This you can see it in parliament when they respond to even simple questions. Honestly? I feel hopeless to carry out any social cause.

Having been to many offices seeking support from government, I believe that it is safe for me to say that the only problem slowing down youth development in the country is the lack political will. One can spend six months meeting local, provincial and national officials seeking assistance and still be left helpless.

In a country where more than 60% of the population is youth, you would really think that the main focus of government initiatives would be to enhance lives of millions of young people. One would think that the biggest focus of government’s programmes are aimed at addressing many challenges young people face.

With over 54 million South Africans, 18.5% who are between the ages 10-19; and 24 per cent are aged 15-24, we know that indeed South Africa’s population is largely made up of young people. It is just unfortunate that some of the current policies and programmes are far from addressing socio-economic development of the youth. They seem to be youth-focused, but the reality is that they are worlds apart from the youth development agenda.

The problem with the current political leadership in South Africa is their obsession with “one hit wonders”. Their minds are geared towards events which tend to push certain political agendas instead of crafting sustainable programmes. They would rather spend millions in a single event than financing a well-thought feasible programme that will create sustainable opportunities and address the three major challenges many South Africans face (poverty, unemployment and inequality). It is improper to sit in conferences, indabas and endless summits each week discussing stuff we will never implement.

One famous line from these leaders “this is a good programme, however we don’t have a budget for that. We are trying to cut costs in our department. Please try us in our next financial year…” has left many development practitioners helpless. Sadly, our leaders will always have a budget to finance an event that will be used to rally around and make them seem to be doing something on the ground, especially when media is there to cover the “the good stories to tell.”

This bad habit of only carrying out youth events in the month of June creates wrong perceptions in society that youth development is only about having a youth-focused event on the 16th of June. Such tendencies needs to be uprooted in our leadership and dealt with. A commemoration of an event can never equate to advocacy of sustainable youth development in a country.

Youth development should never be mistaken for a one-night-stand or a bubble gum you chew and throw away once it loses its flavour. It will not take one occasion to develop 60% of the population of this country. Government needs to look into supporting some innovative and sustainable youth development programmes that will impact millions of young people in a positive manner.

This country doesn’t only need new ideas, but it also needs a political will from those who hold strategic positions in government to support youth development practitioners in all their efforts to ease up their work-load.

Thabang Phala

Thabang Phala is an award-winning development practitioner, business consultant, brand strategist, facilitator and thought leader with industry experience spanning over 11 years.

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