TRANSCRIPTION OF REMARKS BY DEPUTY MINISTER BUTI MANAMELA AT THE OFFICIAL OPENING OF THE YALI-RLC SPACE
UNISA, SBL, MIDRAND
12 JUNE 2017
Vice Chancellor of the University of South Africa – Prof. Makhanya
Acting Mission Director for USAID Southern Africa – Mr Alonzo Wind
YALI RLC – SA Director – Mr Olwethu Sipuka
Executive Director and CEO of the UNISA SBL – Dr Mokate
YALI RLC – SA Alumni
Ladies and Gentlemen
One of the things I was taught at a very young age was that in order to lead, the most important thing is to be able to ask questions and seek answers. I think this is one of the most important things that as young leaders we must do to ensure that our continent is a better place.
I want to challenge you over the course of this programme to ask questions. To seek for answers, no matter how uncomfortable those questions would be, not matter how unexpected the answers you will get.
But more importantly ask questions, ask questions of yourselves, ask questions of your communities where you come from, your work, your organisations, and your country. Ask questions of businesses that you come into contact with. Ask questions of your leaders, but importantly ask questions of the role you need to play in order to make the continent a better place.
I’m hoping that with the Town hall session that Mr Alonzo Wind of USAID is going to have with you, you will not only have questions for him but you should also ask questions of yourselves and the role that you need to be playing as young leaders.
One of the biggest challenges we are confronted with in our era as young leaders is the challenge of externalising our leadership role. How many times have we heard young people or young leaders essentially pointing in the other direction in terms of where the solutions for challenges that confronts us in our society lie? We never really look at ourselves and the roles that we should play.
I think that it is important that when we think about leadership we do not think about leadership in terms of the other person. We need to think about leadership in terms of the role you should play in society. The externalisation of leadership seems to be the trend, either because in government we are failing to deliver services as we are expected to as leaders. Perhaps in businesses who have failed society and are not taking responsibility.
One of the key things that we need to do as young leaders is to stop externalising our leadership and see ourselves as young leaders and as central to resolving key questions, problems and challenges in the spaces we occupy. So we cannot “otherwise” or externalise our leadership role.
You are the most fortunate to be part of this programme because it means that within your communities and within your organisations you are probably the best because you actually took a decision and said “I can and I should”.
In the era or social media all are yearning for likes and retweets. I have seen people’s views and opinions being changed in a split of a second because of what is trending or because of what is popular.
People’s opinions become vulgarised, not because of their worthiness but because more and more people dislike those opinions. In this era, it is quite easy for one to abandon their values or want to change their views based on what others are saying or to actually articulate a view on the basis of whether it will attract more likes or more retweets.
We have become almost fake people. I know the President of the United States always talks about fake news, but we have become fake people because we want to lead lives on the basis of what others think and do. Prof Makhanya was talking about populism, demagogy and all sorts of leadership traits that have emerged. They have emerged because in this day and age it is easy for people to be followers rather than leaders. It is also easy for people to do things on the basis of the following they will get from those actions.
People need to legitimately look at the needs, interests and aspirations of their society and take a firm stance and say this is where I stand as a leader. Our societies are influenced by big media houses, television and social media. In the space of that noise do we really say let’s stop and let’s think about what are the things that need to be done? These things may not be popular but they really need to be done at this particular moment.
I challenge you to think about leadership in that way, because you - for now may not be requiring votes but in the spaces you are in, based on the skills that you have or legitimacy you have built over time, are now leaders.
We always hear young people being referred to as future leaders, but you are leaders now and I think you need to take action now. When you go into the future that future may not be there. I implore you to think differently about leadership in this day and era when our views and opinions may be swayed – not on the basis of their currency and their value but on the basis of how many people like it.
Now the historical Jesus, who I subscribe to, and to the disappointment of Prof Makhanya who knows me to be a member of the Central Committee of the Young Communist League. But think about the historical Jesus who has influenced generations to this day but only started with twelve followers. If he had a Twitter account he would have twelve followers. At some point Judas Iscariot stopped following him so he would have eleven followers. But if you think of the impactful leadership that goes into generations way after the historical Jesus has passed on.
I want us to think about leadership that is not only about the positive things that happen in society and the effect that they will have in the future. There have been leaders who have taken advantage of the miseries that people are confronted with. They have emerged as leaders and have divided society either on the basis of their race, of their colour, of their ethnicity or their gender.
They have become popular leaders in a particular period. But when we reflect historically on the role and impact of the societies that they have led, we realise that they should not have led. When you think about Mussolini, Hitler and many others who at a particular period had their societies believe that they were the right leaders.
They were the right leaders at the time because they appealed to the narrow interests of society. They did not appeal to the greater good. So leadership impact is not only about the positive things that happen in society but about the negatives as well.
Yes, our continent is fraught with corruption, not only in political leadership, but also in businesses and religious institutions. You would know of Priests buying people to come in on wheelchairs, be prayed for and come out walking. Some sort of fake divine intervention I suppose.
Yes our Continent is fraught with all of that, institutions are crumbling and there needs to be a time when we think about the action to be taken for that context and that situation.
If you are going to be spending time here complaining about the fact that we have a dictatorship in this country, a corrupt leader in that country or we have frequent elections in this country – and all sorts of things happening on the Continent that we do not like.
We can’t spend the duration of this programme mourning that our continent is stuck in the 60’s and 70’s without thinking about the positive impact we can make at the end of this programme. Then this programme will not be what it claims to be. So I therefore implore you to also think about the positive impact that come out of this programme.
The African Union has also declared this year, the year of harnessing the demographic dividend through investments in youth. Next month African leaders will gather in Addis Ababa to engage on that theme in terms of the actions that that come out of these programmes. How do we ensure that our countries implement decisions to help us take advantage of a youthful continent? 400 000 000 of the continent’s people are below the age of 35.
Many of those may be unemployed and not in educational institutions or some form of skills training. We need to be driving our continent and our leadership in whatever sphere and in whatever form towards investing in these young people.
We have obviously learnt lessons from elsewhere but I think importantly it’s about how we ensure that we come up with African solutions for African problems. I think that is one of the things that we will do. How do we ensure that we build institutions or contribute in building our institutions of democracy? How do we ensure that we build independent states. Many of our countries are depended on the contributions of donor funding and governments cannot do anything without the contributions of donors.
Therefore, it means for many, irrespective of the intentions of the donors, the will of the people may be undermined by the demands and pressures of the donor funders. Therefore taking advantage of the resources that our continent has is essential.
Finally, we will be commemorating June 16, on Friday in South Africa, our Youth Day and therefore our youth month. One of the things which we have done in our country was to introduce a National Youth Policy. Our assessment of what has happened in some African countries, especially in Southern Africa is that although there are youth policies – there are laws that dictate what should happen in youth development, many of these are not being achieved.
I therefore challenge you to ensure that we hold our different government accountable. That they put in place a set of policies and laws that focus on the development of young people. We ourselves are constantly kept on our toes in terms of ensuring that we implement our youth policy. That’s one of the key things that I employ you to do.
So congratulations in the year and in your time in South Africa. You are in Midrand, Johannesburg, the wealthiest city in the whole continent. I heard that one of the students has had to return home because of ill discipline. There are those temptations when you are here. But as young people I hope that you are able to go and experience the city and part of our history.
There are many institutions that have preserved our history so I hope you will be part of those programmes. Overall I hope that at the end of this programme you will emerge as young leaders and you will ask the most problematic and uncomfortable questions. That would be the beginning of leadership!
All the best!