In a time where corruption runs rife in all spheres of society, where young people are riddled with a mountain of problems, and where hope cannot be seen on the horizon, we find strength in collective struggle. Over the last two years, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation redeveloped its approach to youth work. This new vision, born out of years of hard work prompted us to think outside the box, and beyond the confines of our immediate space.
What was a ‘once-off’ leadership program, bringing in a select group of young people to a central program for teaching and training, now morphed into a project that allows us to go into communities and empower young people with skills, knowledge and tools in which they can create change from a grassroots level. This new approach to youth development required us to understand where change must happen, how it must happen, and with who must it happen. Taking a page out of the history books, we looked at models in which young people can organise themselves in an effective way to create change, and thus the Kathrada Youth Activism Program was born. A program that aims to organise young people in their communities in a structured way through a youth activist club. These community youth clubs would then serve as a space in which young people can discuss and debate various topics. Where they can work together towards common problems that they face and engage stakeholders in their respective areas, so that more young people form part of the change and development process.
Across the globe there are approximately 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24. A generation of young people that are far more connected to each other like never before. In South Africa, we have an unfortunate situation, in that young people are unfairly represented in almost all spaces in society. In fact, the ruling party through its youth formation is plagued by people who are in their thirties, gatekeeping spaces where younger people can, in good standing, lead and create the change that’s necessary. Our body politic is so caught up in growing divisions and cheap politicking, that we have yet to prioritise our collective development and progress, in which society can thrive, and one where young people do not painfully drown themselves in the deep and dark pits of hopelessness.
Our youth club model focuses on youth between the ages of 15 and 25. The idea is to ensure that through effective training and support, we can enable a generation of young activists to work on building sustainable and resilient communities, where a culture of serving the people who live in it, can thrive. The first step in this process is drawing on lessons from the life-long activist, Ahmed Kathrada, who has given us a blueprint on how to be an active citizen committed to changing our society, based on the values and principles enshrined in our Constitution. Uncle Kathy’s life was one of servitude, commitment and vigour. The kind of leadership that has withered away like the cold autumn winds.
In preparation for this youth activism project, the Foundation commissioned the creation of a workbook to capture the life of Uncle Kathy as a series of lessons, with the intention of inspiring more young to locate their own power and develop their own activism in South Africa today. A number of activities and tools can be found in this workbook, that allow young people to understand his story not as a hero of the liberation movement, but so that they can see how he went about building power and creating change, from the age of 12.
Using this workbook, we have run numerous training workshops with school kids and young people in our activist clubs. The training allowed us to delve not only into Uncle Kathy’s life, but of the many participants that had joined us. The diversity of views and opinions, the creativity and critical thinking, the levels of willingness to engage and learn, were some of the key features that have stood out. When those in power says, “young people are the leaders of tomorrow”, I get uncomfortable because I know for a fact that there are tons of capable, educated and skilled individuals who are leaders of today in their own right, given the space, opportunity and support, I for one think they will be able to hold their own and make a far more lasting impact.
Over the last year we have had numerous requests to run more workshops and launch more clubs. The eagerness to learn and engage in this material has shown that the legacy of Uncle Kathy still holds immense relevance years after he has passed. The multiplicity of youth that have shown interest in this program, that have engaged in debates and advocated for change through a number of campaigns and social programs, have shown just how impactful investing in the youth can be. These young people, and the many across the length and breadth of this country, are the horizon in which hope looms. Their collective struggle, pain and hopelessness will be the spark that brings change.
Our Youth Activism Program will soon put out applications for those interested in launching clubs across the Johannesburg Metropolitan Area. This new phase of the program aims to organise young people so that we can fulfil the generational fight set out for us. One that Uncle Kathy defines, “Our enemy today is not apartheid. Our enemy is poverty, hunger, disease, homelessness, crime and unemployment”. A fight we have no option but to face head on. A fight against a world heating up and where systems of government do not serve the people but a select few.
“…There is no such thing as defeat. Remember that no struggle in any part of the world was won in the drawing rooms and conference tables… We must at all times know that, as with the struggles of all peoples, the main brunt will have to be borne by the youth”- Ahmed Kathrada, in a letter to the Youth of South Africa after being banned in 1954.