OPINION

Youth at Fort Hare ready to embrace new future - Mmusi Maimane

DA leader says students elected a DASO-led SRC in last month's elections

The young people at Fort Hare are ready to embrace a new future

Note to Editors: The following speech was delivered today by DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane, at the DA's Youth Day Rally at Fort Hare University in Alice, Eastern Cape. Maimane was joined by DA Eastern Cape Provincial Leader, Nqaba Bhanga, DA Youth Federal Leader, Luyolo Mphithi, DA Students Organisation (DASO) Constituency Head for Eastern Cape and MP, Hlomela Bucwa, DAY EC Chairperson, Mawethu Kosani and DASO UFH President Xolani Jaji.

My fellow South Africans,

It is an honour for me to address you here on Youth Day at Fort Hare University. This institution has played a significant role in the history of our country. For over a hundred years, Fort Hare has stood at the forefront of social and political change in South Africa.

Some of our country’s greatest leaders and stalwarts of the struggle passed through here. People like Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. There is a rich history of black leadership that can trace its academic and intellectual roots all the way back here to Alice.

And last month’s SRC election proved that Fort Hare is still at the forefront of change and progress in our society. Because, in electing a DASO-led SRC, the students here have shown that they are prepared to take a bold new step towards a future not necessarily dominated by the ANC.

This university – and particularly this campus in Alice – has always been an ANC stronghold. This has always been their intellectual home. For the students of this campus to turn their backs on the ANC and SASCO, is a significant development.

They have shown that they can break with tradition in the interest of progress. They have shown that if the party of their parents and the party of the struggle is no longer relevant to them, then they are willing to seek out a party that is concerned about the issues that are important to them.

Many of the students here at Fort Hare don’t have it easy. Many of them come from poor households, many fought a hard battle to get here. And once here, life doesn’t get any easier. Accommodation is often overpriced and sub-standard. Funding for fees is insufficient. Then there’s books and stationery and a host of other crippling costs. It all adds up.

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme has just admitted that more than 120,000 students nationwide have been affected by delays in the payment of their allowances. This is money these students desperately need for food, accommodation and other expenses on campus. Most of them have no other safety net to rely on. Most of them are affected by intergenerational poverty – a cycle that is very hard to break.

If you’re a student facing these hardships, then you will want people on your SRC who will stand up for you. You will gravitate towards those who speak of the things that affect you, and who then go beyond speaking and actually fight on your behalf. That’s what happened here in Alice. A significant majority recognised that there is only one student organisation on this campus that truly fights for the students.

We have seen DASO victories on campuses elsewhere in South Africa too, but this one here is particularly significant given the history of this place. This is a shift in momentum that cannot be ignored.

What happened here on this campus is a reflection of what is happening in our country as a whole. As our democracy matures, our political landscape is changing. South Africans are slowly moving away from the idea that their vote should be tied to their identity. There is a growing realisation that the only deciding factor when casting your vote should be the ideas of the parties involved – their vision for the future of our country, their policies through which they hope to achieve this vision, and the values that underpin their offer.

This shift is desperately needed in our country right now. We need a fresh start, and we need it soon, because life is hard for the millions of people who find themselves locked out of our economy.

And this is particularly true for young South Africans. Even the lucky few who make it to university and leave here with a degree will find it harder and harder to break into the economy as opportunities dry up.

Right now there are almost 9.5 million South Africans who cannot find work. For those under the age of 24, there is a two in three chance of being unemployed. That’s our ticking time bomb. We cannot even think of building a prosperous country if we don’t have a plan to bring our young people into the economy.

Yes, we need them to find employment. But we also need them to become employers. We need to foster a culture of entrepreneurship, and then do all we can to ensure that our young entrepreneurs succeed. Not just for their sake, but for the sake of our country. Our collective future depends on it.

We must accept that not everyone leaving school will qualify for higher education, and so our plan must include a range of options for everyone. We must dramatically expand internships and apprenticeships for school-leavers. But we must go beyond that and consider solutions like a year of national youth civilian service. Anything to enable young people to get a foot on the jobs ladder.

Opening opportunities for young South Africans must be our obsessive focus. Ours must be a cradle-to-career plan that includes improving our early childhood development centres, fixing our failing basic education system and expanding access to tertiary education, with a truly progressive funding model where the poor are subsidised but those who can afford to pay do so.

As we reflect today on the sacrifices made by our youth in the history of our country, let us also look to the future and ask what role our youth should play in building a country that works for all.

And when I see what the students here at Fort Hare have done, I am filled with optimism. Because if they can break from history and place their trust in an SRC that speaks for them, then there is no reason why the rest of the country can’t do the same with their government.

Issued by the DA, 16 June 2018