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YOUTH VOLUNTARISM IN SOUTH AFRICA

2. A Rational for Youth Engagement in Voluntary work
 
Young people should perceive their involvement in voluntary development work as their human right. Their participation should be perceived not only as part of their development process as they acquire new knowledge and skills but also as a direct contribution to the national development efforts. It is particularly critical that young people are engaged in voluntary work because the vast majority of them are currently unemployed or under employed. It is estimated that close to 6 million young people aged between 14 and 35 are unemployed in South Africa.

In many communities, particularly townships many unemployed youth spend most of their day around streets, or shops, cafes and shebeens. In an environment where social amenities and recreational facilities are minimal, young people find new social spaces to cope with their state of deprivation. It is around shops where are socialized, where they are able to define their role models, where they receive their sex education, where indeed they are criminalized.

In Limpopo province, for instance young peoples’ state of idleness around shops is termed park shopping. Young men and women can spend an entire day around a shop seemingly doing nothing. Yet park shopping has emerged as a major institution for the socialization of young people. It is around shops that the young are schooled into the ways of the community. It is around shops where young people learn the latest fashions, they learn of where the next casual wear might be available, they learn how to band together as a youth subculture. It is also around shops that they acquire risky behavioral related habits, such as drinking and smoking and it is around the shops where they are exposed to unsafe sex. (Mkandawire et al 2001). This is of course a legacy of apartheid, which systematically neglected rural areas, which were perceived as largely labour reserves for the metropolitan areas.

Existing youth social networks such as the “park shopping” phenomenon, should be perceived as a social asset that could be utilized by authorities as a basis for mobilizing young people for voluntary work. Young people who have already developed a bonding culture and who are searching for new livelihood opportunities, and other spaces for their livelihoods, should be mobilized and provided with appropriate training to work as volunteers in a wide range of development settings where their skills might be required.

The paper therefore calls on young people to begin volunteering their human capital as a basis for their engagement in the national development agenda and as a basis of their own growth. It is of course also acknowledged in the paper that the spirit of voluntarism is new in South Africa. The educational system of the past with it's emphasis on spoon feeding learners, compounded by the ideology of apartheid engendered the very ethos of voluntarism resulting in the inculcation of a spirit of rebellion and apathy towards government initiated development.

This attitude unfortunately still lingers on in local communities, as well as among young people themselves. This is reflected most aptly in the saying that a ”white man’s job doesn’t finish”, hence justifying not finishing given tasks on time; justifying leaving at 5 o’clock even in when spending an additional five minutes would have ensured the completion of an urgent task.

The concept Masakhane is confounded with this mind set of the past, which clearly should be deconstructed. The new mindset should also be accompanied by a re-conceptualization of who the youth are. There is need for a common understanding of this segment of society to ensure that programmes in place establish a common understanding of whom they are targeting.

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