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Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Des Van Rooyen. Picture Credit: Gallo Images
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Out of the mouths of babes

By unknown | Jul 11, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

On Wednesday, a group of children of all ages from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region gathered in Johannesburg to celebrate the 90th birthday of the world's most loved grandfather and great-grandfather, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

On Wednesday, a group of children of all ages from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region gathered in Johannesburg to celebrate the 90th birthday of the world's most loved grandfather and great-grandfather, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

The children are part of the Youth Parliament - an initiative of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund - aimed at giving young people an opportunity to voice their concerns.

As part of the celebrations, children from Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambiaque, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa thanked Madiba for "showing the world that black people are dynamic leaders and that we (the youth) can be anything we want to be".

However, the children also told Mandela and the audience (comprising government officials, politicians, business leaders and foreign dignitaries) about the challenges they face.

They spoke about young girls being defiled and infected with the HIV by men old enough to be their fathers, who regard them as sex objects.

A girl from Lesotho related the heart-rending story of a 13-year-old girl named Mpho from Qwading, a rural village in the mountain kingdom.

Mpho's parents died of Aids-related diseases and she has since left school to fend for her younger siblings. To earn money she now has a sexual relationship with her late father's friend.

The man, who works as a miner in South Africa, does not believe in protected sex. So, not only is Mpho being sexually abused by this adult, she also runs the risk of being infected with HIV-Aids.

"A girl child is not free in this world," the children told the audience.

The children spoke about poverty, access to education and how political leaders such as Robert Mugabe had failed them.

Young people from Zimbabwe told the audience how qualified teachers were leaving the country because of the economic crisis to seek greener pastures.

In the process, ordinary children, whose parents cannot afford to send them to private schools abroad or in neighbouring countries, are left in the lurch.

Akhona Maya, the 17-year-old speaker of the Youth Parliament, blamed parents and governments for failing to effectively deal with the problems of young people because of "misguided and weak leadership".

The issue of leaders giving hope to their followers is very important.

Last month while in Washington, I visited a local book shop to buy Barack Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope.

While I was queuing to pay for the book a young African-American woman standing behind me peeked over my shoulder and remarked "Obama".

I asked her if she was going to vote for him. "Yes," she responded.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because he represents the dreams and aspirations that I have as an American."

The young woman was not the only person I asked why they wanted to vote for Obama.

Most of them, mostly young people of all races, said Obama gave them hope because he "is so in touch with the issues that affect us".

For young Americans the key issues are access to health services and education.

I have met several young people who hold two part-time jobs during the day and go to college at night. This is because tertiary education is so expensive and they are trying to make ends meet.

Saying the right things to the youth could simply be dismissed as what is expected of campaigning politicians.

But most people - including some Republicans I spoke to - have conceded that Obama has "energised American politics". He achieved this by making Americans - especially the youth - realise that they have to be involved in politics.

They have to get involved in shaping the kind of leaders they want - not just by voting but by going out there and saying "this is the leader we want and we are going to support his campaign so that he eventually gets into office and addresses our issues".

Obama, on the other hand, gave the youth the opportunity to do just that by involving them in his campaigning juggernaut.

He got the youth to use the Internet and chat rooms to raise money for his campaign and to also talk to other young people about the challenges they face.

In the process he told them that the United States needed a new kind of political leader, the kind of leaders who seek solutions to the challenges they face beyond the smallness of their politics.

Leaders who are, for example, prepared to acknowledge their faults and take responsibility for the economic and political gridlock in Zimbabwe, which is negatively affecting the lives of the youth in the SADC region.

Such leaders must be willing to accept what Obama describes as "the gap between the politics they have and the politics they need".


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