This Youth Month is one of the most significant South Africa has faced since 1976 and could mark a turning point in our history if government and broader society recognises the essential role young people played in fighting the coronavirus pandemic; and continues to involve them as essential to overcoming current crises.
The youth activators in our network, Activate!, were some of the best equipped to swiftly step in where the government lagged in terms of service delivery to communities.
Through some of our hubs and through the ecosystem of relationships that has been mobilised; our youth stepped in during national lockdown to assist with soup kitchens when food parcels weren’t getting through to communities in need; they translated Covid-19 health information into the vernacular so that it was easier to understand in their rural homes; they mobilised other young people to assist with getting information to the most vulnerable, such as the elderly, through regular social media messaging; they were part of the workers at the forefront of testing; and some started creative projects to capture the historical significance of the lockdown through poetry and storytelling.
In reflecting on Youth Month in general and the youth activism aligned to it in times of crisis; we must look to the historical significance of youth activism in South Africa. From 1976 and beyond, young people drove political change to bring about our democracy. They were at the centre of the fight against HIV/Aids through the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), which culminated in the largest HIV treatment programme in the world.
Under this Covid-19 pandemic, they are once again being called to be of service, and they are. We are all very aware that this invisible enemy has exposed the reality of what is happening on the ground and the rampant level of poverty we are dealing with. Young people are at the forefront of that.
So now we have to ask ourselves, in terms of having to affect policy change, why are the youth not essential stakeholders? They are often the ones who respond quickly, leveraging off networks that exist, like our Activate Change Drivers’ network; and are able to perform the change in their environments that is needed.
We find ourselves now having to live in a new environment, refine what it means for us and how to shape it. As a youth network, we have tried to be present at all important policymaking decisions and we are making a call now for the youth to be included by government, by business, by civil society, at all important conversations on youth policy and in solutions to fight this pandemic on the ground.
This crisis has shown us once again, that there is space for citizen activism to fill the gap; that there is space for change and for the youth to be recognised as an essential service in South Africa. Since 1976, the youth have led the revolution. We have shown our worth, we have done the work. We are ready.
Althea Farmer is executive director: operations for Activate Change Drivers