Higher education in South Africa and globally is in transition. In the country, student movements, intellectual analyses and government reports over the last few years have highlighted that the move towards more decolonized, equitable and inclusive institutions of higher learning has been slow.
Young people have been key participants and contributors to conversations around the deepening of transformation in the country and sector, as witnessed during the campaigns for access, transformation and decolonisation in the last few years.
In a concerted bid to elevate and make the youth voice a more prominent contributor to policy, Nelson Mandela University this morning launched the Annual Nelson Mandela Youth Convention, spearheaded by the Student Governance and Development directorate under the Dean of Students.
The convention, which will take place over three days until 1 August under the theme Living in the Age and Hope of Madiba, will zoom in on issues relating to education, leadership, employability, entrepreneurship and health and wellness.
Opening the Convention, Vice-Chancellor Prof Sibongile Muthwa said the slow rate of change was due, in part, to the contextual complexities relating to the prevailing high levels of inequality, and “persistent divisions based largely on race, class and patriarchy which manifest in the fabric of the university and its functionalities”.
“In beginning to fundamentally change this, there is a need to place a sharper focus on praxes that tackle issues of social justice and poverty alleviation locally, continently and globally,” she said.
“In doing this, we must look not only at matters of redress, democratisation, development and the quality of the university, but also zoom in on curriculum and research, diversity, social cohesion and social inclusion, as well as community engagement. At the core of this must be students.
“The life-blood of a student-centric university is its willingness to locate student voice in strategic platforms where engagements about student life take place. This should be complemented by an active approach and programme to develop the full human potential of each student as a young person.”
The convention bodes well with the University’s belief that “higher education plays a major role in the development of a vibrant society and is key to delivering the knowledge requirements for development that will enhance the quality of life for all citizens”.
The University set itself a compelling vision of becoming a dynamic, African university recognised for its leadership in generating cutting-edge knowledge for a sustainable future and as such, the convention seeks to focus on lasting solutions to identified youth challenges.
In her inaugural address in April this year, Prof Muthwa articulated a vision to establish Hubs of Convergence, which will be spaces where the University meets the community to engage on common platforms to find solutions to practical problems that affect our immediate communities.
“This Youth Development Convention is designed as an expression of the conceptual notion and purpose of a Hub of Convergence, set up to enable a sustained focus and discourse on the needs, challenges, aspirations and visions of young people,” she said this morning.
“Through this, the youth and students will remain positioned as the key participants and contributors to the transformation of both society and the university, working towards more youth-centred solutions whilst fostering innovation and on-going development.”
The convention aims to create and sustain a network of private, public or civic organisations and individuals that play in the youth development space, which should be connected to youth and be activated to support the ideas and projects of young people towards their own development.
It is expected to yield broad outcomes, including the development of a youth development index for annual publication to reflect progress made and the establishment and sustenance of a youth research laboratory on youth development theory and practices.
Dean of Students, Luthando Jack, set the contextual tone for the Convention, outlining the state of the youth in country, who are battling high levels of unemployment, among a range of other matters, with education and health outcomes not where they are meant to be.
“The key is youth inclusion… [and this convention is] unique in its identity and focus in ameliorating the quality of life of young people through deliberate and purposive agency,” he said.
Eastern Cape MEC for Finance, Economic Development, Environment and Tourism, Oscar Mabuyane, and Nelson Mandela Ba mayor, Cllr Athol Trollip, echoed concerns at the high rate of youth unemployment and pledged their support to the Convention.
Some of the day’s speakers include Mandela University’s Dean of the Health Sciences Faculty, Prof Lungile Pepeta, and political analysts Prince Mashele, who spoke on Young People and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: What should be the response of young people and towards what end? Prof Somadoda Fikeni addressed the gathering on Indlulamithi South Africa Scenarios 2030 – Looking above the Trees: Implications for Youth Inclusion and Sustainable Youth Development.
Remaining speakers to the convention’s first day include Dr Themba Masondo, Prof Barry Hanyane, while former finance minister Mcebisi Jonas and Dr Bernice Hlagala from the Presidency’s Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation.
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