Address at the National Youth Commission Inaugural Meeting – 1996/07/01

Chairperson,

1.0 There are institutions which, because of their very mission in history, can only be born at that historical juncture poised between the dissolution of the old order and the establishment of the new. Such institutions come to symbolise a break with the past, and a strong desire of the people to reconstruct their life anew.

1.1 The National Youth Commission represents one such institution.

2.0 Gathered in this room are committed representatives and servants of a section of our society which, until now, has been fragmented, marginalised and even excluded from making a full contribution to the development of its own lot.

2.1 I had occasion to read through the life history of some of the Youth Commissioners. I am pleased to say that this Commission is equal to the task of searching for the most practicable way necessary to ensure effective youth empowerment, development and governance.

2.2 I am convinced that the Parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee on the National Youth Commission presented to President Mandela a short list of individuals who, as the National Youth Commission Act demands, “when viewed collectively, represent a broad cross section of the youth of the Republic and show a balance between the attributes of youthfulness and experience”.

2.3 Indeed, anybody who has read through the profiles of the Youth Commissioners will find it difficult not to agree with this assertion

2.4 Taken together with the profiles of the Provincial Youth Commissioners, the Commission that the President has appointed is rich in its demographic diversity, gender balance and its experience in dealing with challenges which face the youth.

3.0 This august Commission has been established to give concrete meaning to the governments commitment to development and empowerment of the youth.

4.0 We acknowledge the fact that a lot of research work has been done by different institutions and organisations on youth matters. But we still yet to compile a body of a policy formulation, a policy formulation which can inform the overall policy practice and implementation by the government and society at large.

5.0 Whilst we acknowledge that some research work has been done in this field, we should also keep in mind the fact that all societies are in motion. Technological developments move at an inexorable pace and the extent of their impact on the fibre of society is unprecedented in the history of human kind.

5.1 What this unprecedented evolution of technology, science and society implies is that research work, (more so as it impacts on the youth), should be an ongoing process of trying to deepen our understanding of this ever-changing environment and of finding more appropriate solutions to new challenges.

6.0 What seems to be obvious to all of us is that your policy formulation and implementation will have to recognise the legacy which we have inherited from many decades of Apartheid rule.

6.1 The Commission will have to recognise that the main content of change in the current phase remains the elimination of all forms of disparity which were created on the bases of race, ethnicity and gender. That fact about our life seems pretty obvious.

7.0 What does not seem to be pretty obvious is that the rapid changes in technology, science and social evolution necessitate a new paradigm of human existence, a transition to a new civilisation based on fundamentally different approaches to the meaning, forms and methods of sustaining human life.

7.1 We should never lose sight of the fact that we are faced with other challenges and other problems, those that may be aptly called the challenges of the approaching century and millennium. Viewed collectively, these challenges might be said to reflect moral deterioration of our society.

8.0 The programme of Reconstruction and Development has gone some way in an attempt to meet this challenge when it states that the task of transformation should be people-centred. It should place the people at the centre of its agenda. Social and economic progress will have little meaning if it does not move from this premise.

8.1 Policy formulation and implementation should, in practical terms, have the idea of the people being the goal and the raison d’etre of progress. Not simply its tool.

9.0 The need to find more appropriate solutions to new developments has got a more cogent meaning in our society where reconstruction, development and transformation constitute the supreme agenda of the day.

9.1 The success of the work of the National Youth Commission will be judged by its ability to propel forward this paramount national agenda.

10.0 Chairperson,
The Preamble to the National Youth Commission Act accurately encapsulates what should constitute the very content and the spirit of the policy on youth which your Commission should help to formulate. The preamble sets out what represents our cherished national dream

10.1 However I would like to underline one point in the Preamble which I think underscores the overarching importance of the constituency the Commission is going to serve. The Preamble says “the youth in South Africa constitutes an energetic, creative and the largest sector of our population”. The Preamble goes further to say that “youth means persons between the ages of 14 and 35”.

11.0 If we take this statement as a point of departure in the formulation and implementation of policy, quite a number of socio-economic challenges our country faces begin to loom large in the agenda for reconstruction, development and transformation of our society.

11.1 Firstly, any radical change in our approach to ensure the growth and development of the economy will have to take cognisance of the fact that the bulk of new entrants into the production of that economy are drawn from this constituency. Any serious talk about the modernisation of our economic life will have to place this constituency at the forefront of that modernisation strategy.

11.2 An indispensable part of that modernisation strategy relates to the national curriculum for human resource development. Indeed, if we recognise what the Preamble says that the youth constitutes an energetic, creative and largest sector of our population, the paramount responsibility for the modernisation of our society should be placed on the shoulders of this section of society.

12.0 The thrust of the Commission’s work should also address the youth who fall outside established institutions of society. For example, there is a great desire by youth out of school to enter the field of literacy, cultural, academic as well as intellectual life.

13.0 Chairperson,
It is generally recognised that the rapid spread of AIDS/HIV has begun to eat into the very fibre of society. It is not going to be long before it causes a major economic dislocation.

13.1 If a solution is not found to contain the spread of the virus, more families will be torn asunder, the economy will suffer, more public revenue will be diverted into providing health care for the growing population of affected individuals and the morale of the population will begin to founder .

13.2 All available evidence indicate that the section of our society most affected by the spread of AIDS/HIV is precisely the youth. This is yet another point which underscores the importance of the task of the Commission.

14.0 A similar emphasis should be placed to the need to combat all forms of crime (violent and non-violent), the spread of substance abuse, the escalation of rape and child molestation as well as the drift of our society into general moral degeneracy.

15.0 It is this section of our society falling between the ages of 14 and 35 years which is largely affected by all these social ills.

16.0 Another important point to be made is that the National Youth Commission will have to forge a very close working relationship with organs of civil society. The Commission can only draw its strength as well as find practical expression to its policy implementation through this relationship.

17.0 It is the task of this Commission to raise the level of awareness in the broader society about the centrality of young people in the modernisation and transformation of our society.

17.1 You need to enlist the support of the private sector, non-governmental organisations, youth and student formations.

17.2 Your policy formulation and practice should help to modernise and transform the many institutions in our society including the schooling system, the SANDF, SAPS, Correctional Services etc.

18.0 Perhaps the Commission’s greatest challenge is to make all departments and all institutions of the government of the day recognise its existence, accept its policy recommendations and make those recommendations an integral part of their programme.

18.1 You have to diligently lobby law makers at all levels of legislation and governance, raise the awareness about the issues that affect young people, and thus earn the respect and recognition of all levels of governance.

19.0 On the other hand, the greatest leverage the Commission has is that the overall political responsibility to ensure that the Legislative Chambers and Government institutions implement the policy of the government on youth empowerment and development, rests with the President.

19.1 To put the same issue differently, it can be said that the National Youth Commission is there to ensure that the President does not fail in performing this task effectively.

19.2 The President’s intervention to ensure effective youth empowerment, development and governance depends on the guidance of the National Youth Commission.

20.0 I am glad to observe in your agenda that the Commission has already started to take advantage of international links with other youth formations. The Commission’s participation at this level will have to move quickly in the direction of Southern Africa as a region as well as Africa as a continent.

20.1 We have to move with speed to reconstruct our relations with the region of Southern Africa. We have to assure the region and the continent that we are interested in building a relationship which recognises that we are equal partners who need to treat each other with mutual respect.

20.2 We need to quickly dispel the suspicion and the fear out there that we are a present-day Big Brother who is out to dominate and subjugate the region by other means.

20.3 There are many lessons to be drawn both from the successes and the failures of other countries in their formulation and implementation of the policy on youth.

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