South Africa’s youth at a crossroads: A call for transformation and a beacon of hope from Higher Education

The continuous issues that South African young people confront today are deeply concerning. The country is a patchwork of colourful cultures, rich history, and amazing potential, yet our young people’s advancement is hampered by obstacles. From unprecedented high employment rates to chronic ailments weakening our society’s moral fabric, the future leaders of our cherished nation face a bleak scenario.

High unemployment rates have disastrous consequences for the economy and the social fabric of the country. Our young people graduate from universities with degrees, ready to enter the workforce, only to find a dwindling economy with little prospects. The sense of hopelessness grows stronger with each passing day, dragging our youth farther into the abyss of despair.

The harmful consequences of this long-term unemployment are obvious. An idle mind might easily become involved in harmful activities. Poverty, another scourge afflicting our country, turns promising talents into criminals, a situation that could have been avoided if there had been appropriate job options.

Furthermore, the continually slow pace of transformation exacerbates these problems. There is clear opposition to Africanizing the curriculum, resulting in a schism between our educational system and the people it serves. To be relevant and sensitive to the difficulties that our students confront today, the curriculum must be overhauled immediately.

The assault against young women and children is disturbing. The incidence of femicides and the victimisation of female children in schools is a serious problem that jeopardises the safety and development of half of our future generation. The status of our judiciary does little to bring solace, with many believing that it is unprepared to manage and adjudicate such serious situations.

Furthermore, the mental health of our youth is in grave danger. The pressures of living in a constantly challenging environment might cause serious psychological discomfort. Nonetheless, mental health remains a taboo subject, with few resources dedicated for assistance and intervention.

Furthermore, the lack of adequate administration and supervision for new graduates creates a risky situation. Young professionals and academics at higher education institutions experience victimisation and intimidation, distancing them from fields where they should be encouraged and directed.

The chronic diseases continue to erode our leaders’ moral fibre, diminishing their efficacy and creating a leadership void. Our youth require role models they can look up to, leaders who can encourage them to rise over adversity.

Addressing these difficulties necessitates a concerted effort from all segments of society. We must campaign for broad changes and methods that address not only economic revitalization but also education, health, safety, and good governance. We owe it to our youth, South Africa’s future leaders, to provide an atmosphere in which they may grow, contribute, and proudly defend the country’s legacy.

Our children are not a lost cause; they are brimming with promise, ingenuity, and the will to make a difference. Let us provide them the tools they need to shape a brighter future for themselves and South Africa.

Higher education’s role in supporting the necessary transition in South Africa is vital and urgent. Universities and colleges across our country have an unwavering duty to pave the road for the required changes for the welfare of our society.

The requirement to Africanize the curriculum is at the heart of this transition. Our educational system must reflect the continent’s unique experiences, histories, and cultures. For far too long, the dominance of Eurocentric narratives in our curricula has produced a schism, leaving students feeling alienated in their own educational institutions. We must guarantee that our curriculum is founded in the realities and settings of our African societies if we are to promote a sense of belonging, pride, and identity.

Greater openness and diversity within the academic personnel and student body are urgently needed. The demographics of our higher education institutions should reflect the diversity of our country’s population. This representation will instil a sense of belonging in children, allowing them to see themselves in their teachers and fostering future scholars and leaders who reflect our country’s diversity.

Furthermore, higher education institutions must protect all students’ safety and dignity. In the face of escalating levels of violence against young women and children, universities must take clear actions and adopt policies that assure zero tolerance for gender-based violence. Institutions must offer safe venues for dialogue, reporting, and assisting those who have been hurt.

Aside from that, mental health support should be routine at higher education institutions. Students’ demands and struggles necessitate expert assistance, and institutions have a responsibility to provide accessible and effective mental health services. Breaking the stigma surrounding mental health begins in these educational settings.

As we face these issues and campaign for much-needed change, a message of optimism from Sol Plaatje University (SPU) rises from the heart of Kimberley.

Despite the enormous hurdles you confront, we see in you an unbreakable spirit and a burning desire to learn, grow, and contribute to the betterment of our community. SPU is dedicated to helping you to manage and transform this complex landscape.

We remain committed to providing an educational experience that is anchored in our African heritage, reflective of your experiences, and prepares you for the global stage. We remain committed to creating an inclusive, equitable environment in which every student is valued, heard, and respected.

Know that our commitment goes beyond simply teaching knowledge as we continue to customise our curriculum to be more relevant and active. We want to provide you skills that promote invention, adaptation, and resilience, qualities that will enable you create chances even in the face of adversity.

Our institution’s commitment to diversity and representation is unwavering. Our doors are open to all, and we think that one of our greatest strengths is the variety of our student body and faculty. Every kid, regardless of background, will find a place here, their voice will be heard, and their talent will be valued.

Your safety, dignity, and well-being are of the utmost importance at SPU. We are always trying to strengthen systems and policies that maintain a zero-tolerance posture towards gender-based violence and other forms of discrimination. We are here for you and for you.

We are fully aware of the enormous stress you are under, and we appreciate the need of mental health help. You are not alone in your challenges, and we are here to support, listen, and assist you.

Finally, we see future leaders of our country in you. Our institution is a place where tomorrow’s leaders are developed, and where ethics, transparency, and accountability are taught and appreciated. You are the future, and the future looks bright.

Remember, our young people, that you are characterised not by the obstacles you experience, but by how you conquer them. SPU is here to accompany you every step of the way. Together, we will usher in a new South Africa, one that reflects the hopes, enthusiasm, and promise of its dynamic youth.
Percy Sepeng is a Full Professor in Mathematics Education and an academic. 

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