Young people took up the opportunity to close off 2020 in high spirits, when over a hundred members of the Kathrada Youth Club participants gathered at Lenasia’s Model Primary School in Lenasia to attend the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s Youth Impact Festival on December 12, 2020ZukoMasabalala, who attended the conference, shares his thoughts on this learning experience. 

I come from Protea Glen, a small and quite neighbourhood in Soweto where nothing vibrant ever happens. When I received the invitation to attend a youth conference by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, I grabbed the opportunity with open arms. Due to the nation-wide lockdown, I, like many others,had not been out very much. Arriving at the venue, I was metby the pleasant sight of young people who had donned onfacemasks, who were practising social distancing while engaging in conversation. 

Like myself, the youth attending the festival itself where representing different communities across Johannesburg. I felt honoured to be amongst such a dynamic group. As the programme unfolded, Youth Programmes Manager at the Kathrada Foundation Irfaan Mangera opened up the event. In his welcome address, Irfaan took us through what the Foundation expected of us as servant activists. Executive Director at the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Neeshan Balton, who spoke next, commended the youth present for sacrificing their weekend to attend this important and worthwhile gathering. He then shared with us how their generation of activists organised and mobilised in different pockets and campaigns to voice their resistance to the oppressive apartheid regime. Balton acknowledged the myriad of issues faced by young people today. In his words of encouragement to us, Balton reminded us of the journey that lay ahead for each of us who needed to ensure that we truly are of service to our communities. 

With that said, he called on us to begin to form strong bonds with one another amongst as proud members of the Kathrada Youth Clubs. 

A panel discussion on the state of the youth in South Africa today soon followed. I personally found the topic very interesting as this is an issue that questions the visibility and participation of young people in civil society, current affairs and realm of the communities in which they live in.  From the panel discussion, I noted how there was a misunderstanding between the old and younger generation of activists, particularly around the methods in which information is shared and disseminated. For example, nowadays we have new and social media, which comes with its own pros and cons. The discussions also helped me to realise the evolution of activism in the digital era and to further my own knowledge of what non-racialism really means. 

As individuals, we were able to contribute constructively during the time we were split into groups. I was placed in the group unpacking health, sex education and mental health. AKF Youth Alumni and medical practitioner Dr Shakira Choonara facilitated the discussions. Dr Shakira Choonara has not only gone on to serve on the African Union Youth Advisory Councibut she is also currently a Board member at the Foundation. The activities, which included elements of wellness, were relevant to the subject matter, which is something I thoroughly enjoyed. A broad discussion on mental health and our individual state of wellbeing enabled us to understand it in better detail. Ultimately, as a group we gotto realise how therapeutic it was to unpack our burdens, and share our concerns and aspirations.  There is also a need to raise awareness of the mental health disorders that might affect us on the daily. 

The second panel discussion as part of the programme explored activism in action. The panellists encouraged us to identify specific needs within our communities and help to initiate change where action is needed the most. 

The inclusion of sectors such as the Independent ElectoralCommission of South Africa (IEC) also contributed to our learning and understanding the role of young people in an active democracy. The presentation by Thabo Masemolapainted a glaring picture of the declining numbers in youth participation during the elections and the electoral process. It was evident that there is a need for continuous education amongst young people about the election processes and the electoral rights that often go unexercised. 

Packed into one day-long session, the youth festival came with an abundance of knowledge and information sharing. For many of us, the seed of activism has been planted and we look forward to implementing all that we have learned from the stellar line up of speakers and fellow youth who are doing remarkable work within their communities. 

This article was first published in The Daily News and The Star Newspaper

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