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Youth need role models to positively transform SA

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Lisa Hnatowicz

As SA celebrates 28 years of democracy, the legacy of colonialism and apartheid, rooted in racial and spatial segregation, continues to reinforce inequality, hampering transformation.

With just 15.8% of blacks occupying top management positions of the total 79.3% who make up the EAP (according to the 2021 Commission for Employment report), the legacy of apartheid is still very much alive.  

Thousands of young black men and women entered the new SA at the end of 1994 as the country’s first "free" black matriculants, I being one of them. It was an incredible time and we were all filled with floods of emotions. The future looked bright and I, like many others, was hopeful for the future.

It felt like the shackles had been removed and that we were on a path to achieve anything we could once only dream of. Dignity had been restored for us and our elders. We really thought that everything was going to change overnight. Some may say we were naïve to believe things would change so quickly, but it’s understandable why they feel they have been let down by the promises of '94.

The biggest downfall of our transformation journey has been the low quality of education, then the lack of access to acquiring entrepreneurial skills, mindset and spirit. I blame this on the shortage of positive black role models within communities. 

I have been fortunate to have had incredible role models, not only growing up, but also in the early stages of my career. Their influence cultivated a mindset in me that has allowed me to excel in my journey thus far. I started out as a receptionist at a BTL agency and today I am a co-managing director and a company shareholder of the largest independent SA-owned advertising agency, Joe Public.

Thanks to the belief of those around me who invested their time in nurturing my entrepreneurial spirit, I have worked my way up the corporate ladder. Not too many black women in SA hold top management positions. It’s my calling as a business leader to use my role to empower the next generation.

I know that positivity and hard work are at the core of personal and professional success. Yet there appears to be a growing trend among our youth that they are entitled to success and don’t believe it must be earned. This I blame largely on their exposure to social media where celebrities flaunt their wealth and create a desire for a lifestyle that is not realistic or attainable.

As a volunteer lecturer at Boston House College, I drive home the message to my students that success has to be earned, that it cannot be achieved alone and that one’s mindset plays a critical role in how they respond to their circumstances.

The youth unemployment rate remains at a staggering 65.5%. How can this be? In the 28 years since I left school, why are there just 15.9% of blacks in top management positions? These are, after all, the role models our youth need to believe they too can dream big.

Our cultural foundations and our truly African principle of ubuntu provide a relevant foundation for having a global mindset, which according to a study by Gordon Institute of Business Science is the common denominator among senior black SA executives who managed to break away from the norms they were brought up with.

At Joe Public, we are driven by our purpose, which is growth and incorporate it into all elements of our business strategy. The first is the growth of our people. We invest in employees’ studies, workshops, mentorships, courses and business coaching.

Second is the growth of our clients, where we measure strategy and creative products using excellence tools we have developed. Lastly, we are driven by the growth of our country and support nonprofit organisations, job creation, transformation and diversity within. We are currently 60% black-owned and have 40% women on our board.

I believe that putting the spotlight on role models is one solution to help encourage a better self-belief in our youth – one that will positively impact SA’s transformation.  

• Holten is the co-managing director at Joe Public.

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