As part of the celebrations marking the centenary of the birth of former President Nelson Mandela and Ms Albertina Sisulu, Parliament together with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund hosted a Youth Summit that saw more than 300 young people from across the country gather at the Old Assembly Chamber to discuss various topics affecting the youth of South Africa.
The Youth Summit was officially opened by the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Lechesa Tsenoli, who said the dialogue was held in memory of Madiba and Mama Sisulu, “whose love for children and young people was always at the centre of what they did”.
“This summit is to reflect on the heritage and legacy that Mandela and Mama Sisulu left us, it is also a platform to talk about the obstacles, opportunities and risks in place that can derail our developing democracy. We are delighted as Parliament to host this summit, it will ensure that we use this platform for what it is meant for, it is a platform for public debate and public education, following on the footsteps of those who created it,” said the Deputy Speaker.
He said the role of young people was not only in the future, but their contributions and decisions must also impact on the present. “Your contributions and views will form a very important foundation for us as Parliamentarians when we consider issues that affect our society and ensure that government policies are consistent with the Constitution,” he said.
The Speaker of the Youth Summit, Seluleko Ndlovu, presided over the proceedings on the first day of the two-day summit and indicated that they will be guided by the Constitution to ensure “the dignity and equality of everyone”. “We are all equal in dignity and otherwise, and we shall get equal opportunity to speak in this summit,” he said.
The conference scene was set by the Chief Executive Officer of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, Ms Sibongile Mkhabela, who called on young people to “complete what Mandela and Mama Sisulu started”. “This is a moment of the future and the importance of young people in defending the democracy project, our youth have a huge responsibility to complete what was started by Mandela and Sisulu,” she said.
She added that young people have been given all the tools to define the South Africa that they want to live in and ensure that what Mandela said becomes true, when he said “our children are the rock on which our future is built”.
During a discussion on the role of young people in politics, National Assembly Member and Chief Whip of the United Democratic Movement, Mr Nqabayomzi Kwankwa, encouraged the summit delegates to not just depend on the youth leagues of political parties to advocate for change, but be community activists for the change they want to see.
“The past generation (of Mandela and Sisulu) was responsible for the political freedom that we have, we now have to take the country to the next level and grow our economy, and end inequality, unemployment and poverty. The struggle that Mandela and his generation led took us to a particular point, and moving forward is up to us to go to the next level,” Mr Kwankwa said.
Ten-year-old Mangaliso Mxenge from Gauteng received a big applause from the delegates when he challenged the voting age and proposed that it be reviewed to allow for younger people who “have voting intelligence” but are below the age of 18, to participate in the voting process. “What if a child has the voting intelligence of an adult but he is denied the right to vote because of age? Why don’t we assess such children and allow them to vote?” said young Mangaliso.
The summit also discussed tax exemption on sanitary towels, a promise which delegates said was made by government under former President Jacob Zuma but it has still not been implemented.
Responding on behalf of the government, Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said there is a panel that has been appointed to make recommendations on which items should be exempted from VAT (value added tax).
“There is also a strong case of sanitary towels being made free, it’s a human rights issue, it is true that the period of menstruation affects the learning of girls,” said the Minister.
Other topics that the summit deliberated on included the quality of education, health sector and gangsterism.
Lusanda Sothengwa said there were no “youth-friendly clinics” in the public sector, which she said contributed to teenage pregnancy as some clinic staff turned away young people who wanted help on matters of contraception.
“It is up to you to make sure this freedom that Mandela fought for is sustained – freedom from discrimination, stereotyping, hunger and gangsterism. I’ve been inspired by this session. Let us make this an annual event – turn things around – you are the people who can help turn things around,” said Minister Hanekom.
By Sakhile Mokoena
11 July 2018