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In a time where South Africa is said to be lacking good leadership and governance, where do young people look for inspiration?

Leadership capabilities must be harnessed early to have leaders who will use their platforms for the betterment of society, and leaders who will leave a positive legacy for the young to draw inspiration from.

Khutso Hlongwane, Group Chief Financial Officer at Glad Africa, and Mosima Kekana, Vice President of the University of Cape Town Student Representative Council, share their thoughts on the state of leadership in the country, how leadership capabilities can be cultivated, especially in young women, and how they see the future of leadership.

Instilling Leadership Skills

Whilst some are said to be born with leadership skills, as with every skill, they may need to sharpen them. Most of us will have to learn, and have those skills instilled in us.

Hlongwane shares that a great place to start is at home, and at school level.

This can be achieved by:

●  Encouraging young people to be kind, giving and empathetic.

●  Allowing young people to make their own decisions and set goals.

●  Teach young people how to solve their own problems and be solution orientated.

●  Teach young people the importance of self-confidence, taking responsibility and accountability.

●  Lead by example with good morals, values, ethos, and integrity.

This is particularly important as foundations in young people, as they formulate and mould out their idea of what leadership and leading is.

Status Quo Of Current Leadership in The Country

Now let’s step into our current reality. The pandemic has separated the wheat from the chaff. Real leadership and self-serving leadership have, in so many ways, been exposed.

Kekana says, ‘’the current leadership sparks a bit of inspiration for me. At least not in the traditional understanding of inspiration that would make one want to be like them. The inspiration I derive from the current government is more educational. Its flaws create lessons for the next generation of leaders.’’

She continues to say that the current leadership of the country causes frustration for the youth, and she hopes it will fuel a fire in young people to start being more active citizens that participate in democratic processes in the interest of themselves and future generations.

This is particularly important, if I may note, seeing that we account for over 70% of South Africa’s population (under the age of 35 – with more than half being under the age of 29).

‘’South Africa’s political leaders must lead and be more active in mitigating and preventing corruption to its core. There is currently a lack of accountability and a huge gap in social injustice. The basics, fundamentals of what a government mandate is, should be revisited and performed at all levels,’’ Hlongwane adds.

Political leaders are elected by people because there is a certain level of trust, however over the years this trust has been broken and needs to be restored. Hlongwane explains that many people are doubtful about how this trust is going to be restored given our socioeconomic inequality, poverty, and the fact that our state has become largely incapable because of years of state capture.

The reality is that the current leadership is found lacking and still in the heart of national crisis. Our political, civic, and business leadership tend to mostly propose projects and interim solutions/interventions that have little chance of creating progress where youth unemployment is concerned.

Encouraging Young Women to Take Up Leadership

As things stand, we have more men in key leadership positions in the country. One of the ways to change this unsettling reality is to begin preparing a generation of young women to become leaders.

Hlongwane states that on a micro level, we should give young women an opportunity, identify high-potential individuals, provide necessary training to advance EQ, and enhance skills.

That said, here are some pivotal things that must happen to allow effective women leadership:

●  Do not micro-manage.

●  Allowing young women to take initiative, motivate and inspire.

●  Promote critical thinking and constant learning.

●  Encourage and motivate young women and provide constructive feedback.

●  Provide a platform to be able to handle conflicts.

Kekana shares that representation is key and expresses that “we need to see the intentional representation of black women in strategic positions. A lot of my will power in leadership comes from having seen women that look and speak like me doing great things. I feel grateful to be able to walk where they have”

Kekana herself hopes to work for an organization that does meaningful work in fighting inequality in the future. She is passionate about class/worker struggles, public sector economics, and labour economics.

The Importance of Voting

On 1 November 2021, South Africans take to the polls for our municipal elections, another opportunity to use our voices, through the ballot, in voting for leaders.

Kekana says she has seen her peers register to vote in the upcoming elections in large numbers, however, this was in a university setting. This is encouraging considering the youth vote has the potential to be extremely influential in South Africa.

Hlongwane emphasises that for political systems to be representative, all parts of society must be included. When young people are disenfranchised or disengaged from political processes, a significant portion of the population has little or no voice or influence in decisions that affect group members’ lives. To make a difference in the longer term, it is essential that we as young people are engaged in formal political processes and have a say in formulating todays and tomorrow’s politics.

As young people we are critical of our leadership, we understand our democratic privilege, but we struggle to grapple with the idea that the system as it will serve us. None of what is on offer, or any the political parties are attending to our needs.

We need a leadership that sees the value of youth and doesn’t sideline the needs of youth as the youth bear the burden of unemployment.

And finally…

The purpose of leadership is to provide a clear direction and focus, motivating, and encouraging subordinates/colleagues, and letting them be the best version of themselves.

Hlongwane adds that real leadership is creating an enabling and innovative environment of trust, and respect to encourage creativity for the people you work with to thrive and bring out the best in them and provide continuous support.