South African youth: politically engaged, socially minded and ready to lead us to a better future

 

Gill Bates

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 ‘Young people don’t care. They’re more interested in Instagram than making the world a better place. They’re heads down into their iPhones, disengaged, apathetic, just not bothered.’

I have heard this sort of false argument many times. It pains me to hear it because it simply isn’t true and there is evidence to support this. Across the globe, young people are leading campaigns on a whole range of social issues, aiming to eradicate prejudice and make societies fairer as well as safer. If we take the United States as an example, and the aftermath of the horrific Parkland mass school shooting last year, it was the brave students who were at the forefront of campaigning against gun violence in the aftermath. Mature, intelligent and energised, these teenagers shatter the myth that ‘young people just don’t care.’

Here in South Africa, we have comprehensive research demonstrating that our young people are similarly passionate about social issues. When our 2019 South Africa Giving report asked 18-24 year olds why they donate to charity, 64 per cent of them said it was because they want to make a positive difference to society. This was higher than any other age group. We also found that these younger millennials are more likely than other age groups to volunteer for causes they care about, with 54 per cent volunteering in the last month. 87 per cent of them are also positive about the impact that NPOs (non-profit organisations) have had on their local communities.

Across the board, younger people are more likely to join pressure groups, political parties and volunteer at elections. Without doubt, South African youth are increasingly willing to campaign for a range of causes, including broader social issues that might not directly affect them. They are outward looking and want to leave a lasting legacy.

Let me be clear; this isn’t just in theory. In the last two years alone, young people have had a huge impact here in South Africa that translated into a significant change in policy. They fought for free higher education for all, lobbying the Government and campaigning with a united voice so that irrespective of where you’re from, what you look like and how much money you have, you have as good a chance as anyone else to access tertiary education. They fought for this, and they won.

As a result, the Government’s 2018 annual budget allocated 57 billion rand to fund fee-free higher education over three years. Young people played a pivotal role in this struggle, and without their initiative and involvement, one has to wonder whether the free education directive, would have succeeded.

What this movement also demonstrated was a real maturity and organisation skills amongst young people. They were focused and unrelenting on what they wanted to achieve, forming effective campaigning structures, teaming up with relevant groups that could help them, understanding the  facts of the issue and then engaging with decision makers in both the Government and our universities to make their case.

After winning the battle on free education, these youth groups aren’t just disbanding. It isn’t a case of ‘job done’. We can see that they are regrouping to continue the struggle for a higher education system that is inclusive in all respects. Since the start of this academic year, students have been actively protesting against the costs of registration fees, which they see as being exclusionary as well as against what they see as an extreme shortage of accommodation on some campuses.

So next time someone says to you that young people don’t care, tell them about what’s happening in South Africa. Tell them about the seismic educational change that our students helped to bring about and about their giving behaviours. And remember: this is only the beginning. This generation will soon grow up, go out into the workforce, become teachers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, the decision makers of tomorrow. Just think of what they could achieve.

Gill Bates is Chief Executive of CAF Southern Africa


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