Thousands of unemployed youth gathered at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto where they were set to receive appointment letters for being trained as solar technician, which is part of the Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi’s Nasi Ispani initiative.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

In the intricate fabric of contemporary SA, marked by socio-economic disparities, political uncertainty and a quest for profound change, the significance of youth activism, mobilisation and democracy emerges as a beacon of hope.

As the nation contends with enduring challenges stemming from historical injustices, the proactive involvement of its young citizens possesses the potential to propel sustainable solutions and shape a more inclusive future.

Throughout history, youth activism has demonstrated its potency by giving marginalised voices the power to resonate and bring about transformative change. In the South African context, where the enduring legacies of apartheid cast shadows over daily life, the imperative to confront systemic inequalities has spurred a fresh wave of youth-led activism.

With the approaching 2024 elections, the youth have a unique chance to demand accountability, transparency and policies that directly address their concerns. Furthermore, their involvement in decision-making bodies can serve to bridge the generational divide, infusing innovative ideas into governance structures.

To comprehensively address the existing injustices related to food, land and water, a concerted effort is required, encompassing youth activism, grassroots social movements, and an unwavering commitment to democracy. Remarkably, youth activism and democracy share a symbiotic relationship, as the former ignites the latter.

Tshintsha Amakhaya, a network comprised of rural individuals and organisations, showcases the potential of harnessing youth activism to cultivate sustainable solutions. By advocating for comprehensive policies that prioritise the requirements of rural populations, this movement highlights the importance of youth-led activism in engendering inclusive decision-making processes and tackling systemic inequalities at the grassroots level.

As SA navigates electoral cycles, the role of youth mobilisation becomes evident through ActivateZA’s elections campaign initiatives. By emphasising the importance of informed voting and civic participation, ActivateZA empowers youth to hold elected officials accountable and influence policy agendas.

While the impact of such initiatives is tangible, the challenge lies in ensuring sustained engagement beyond election periods.

Amid the urban landscape, the endeavours of Abahlali BaseMjondolo, a movement representing shack-dwellers, exemplify the potential of youth activism in addressing urban inequities. This movement underscores the significance of mobilising marginalised communities to effect systemic change. The movement’s focus on land and housing rights amplifies the voices of the disenfranchised often excluded from formal political processes. However, it also grapples with threats and violence, revealing the intricacies of activism within an entrenched system.

Although the potential of youth activism, mobilisation, and democracy is undeniable, persistent challenges remain. Political apathy, intensified by disillusionment with established institutions, poses a threat to dampen the momentum that young activists have generated. Additionally, economic inequalities can curtail the impact of youth activism.

To ensure the sustainability of youth-led initiatives, it becomes imperative to establish pathways for lasting funding, mentorship, and capacity building. In preparation for the 2024 democratic elections and to strengthen the land reform and tenure movement, several considerations merit attention.

Firstly, there is a necessity to enhance youth participation and representation. Secondly, establishing strong partnerships and coalitions is pivotal. Thirdly, advocating for policy reforms and legislative amendments is essential. Lastly, efforts should be channelled into capacity building and resource mobilisation. Strengthening the skills of young activists through training, mentorship and the provision of resources is crucial.

If implemented, these recommendations hold the potential to significantly contribute to the development of a resilient and impactful land reform and tenure movement in anticipation of the 2024 democratic elections.

Embracing the missions of Tshintsha Amakhaya, ActivateZA, and Abahlali BaseMjondolo allows the nation to harness the boundless energy and creativity of its young citizens. As torchbearers of progress, the youth possess the potential to guide the nation from the shadows of history toward the enduring light of change.

• Aphiwe Ntlemeza is a communications and advocacy officer at Tshintsha Amakhaya
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