Be open to opportunities

Irene Nyakagere Thomas (34), a postdoctoral fellow affiliated with the Future Africa Chair in Global Equity in Africa, chats about the significance of Youth Month and how youth can improve their ability to make an impact on society.

What does Youth Month mean to you?

Youth Month is an umbrella celebration of the lives and sacrifices of brave and innocent young people who were killed by heavily armed police during the 16 June 1976 demonstrations in Soweto. The declaration of June as Youth Month by the new democratic government in 1994 sought to recognise and pass through generations the “never-to-be-forgotten” role of youth in national building. The commemoration of Youth Month is an honour to all youth and a platform that does justice to well-deserved youth rights to be heard, acknowledged and empowered.

Today’s youth exist in a globalised era that can be both empowering beyond imagination and to a degree never reached by previous generations, but also detrimental if abused or misused. With the fast-paced advancements in science and technology, passionate activism in rights and freedoms, and an array of opportunities to learn and improve, today’s youth have the privilege of making informed choices of how to shape their lives, their future and the nation’s future.

How does Youth Month bring about unity?

The Soweto uprising was a demonstration by youth to protest against the Bantu Education Act, which enforced Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools, and apartheid laws that oppressed black South Africans. The procession and subsequent tragedy that befell those young people is perceived as a turning point in the nation’s struggle for liberation. It became a rallying point that inspired the nation and a people to rise against the brutal apartheid system.

Youth Month is an opportunity to channel the same spirit of the young people that brought national unity in 1976 onwards, so that it becomes a catalyst for the continued effort that young people make to bring unity to their generation and generations to come. The events organised countrywide in commemoration of Youth Month play a significant role in uniting individuals from all generations to let the voices of young people be heard.

Which sort of skills make youth marketable and employable?

The requirements of employment opportunities vary according to the nature of a respective vacant role, a recruiting company or organisation, the field of work, and the location or environment of the duty station to mention a few. The key aspects that can make youth employable are their ability to successfully demonstrate how their skills and experiences match the requirements of the role, particularly at the job application phase; their composure when defending the specified abilities for the role at the interview stage; and finally, the courage to apply for jobs in the first place and to research the company as well as the recommended best responses during the recruitment process. Additional aspects that may elevate young people’s marketability in the job hunt is a mature personality, optimism, commitment and a professional attitude, to mention a few.

Skills facilitate adaptability and teamwork, and offer great benefits not only to the employer but to an individual too, as they chart their way towards their future career. An individual who succeeds in equipping themselves with diverse skills is in a better position to succeed in their future career once opportunities for advancement present themselves.

What can young people do to improve their skills?

It’s important to be open to opportunities geared at improving particular skills. These include training, both virtual and in-person networking in constructive social and professional events that are ideal for improving communication; teamwork skills and so on. Above all, skills improvement is essentially a learning process that requires an appropriate mind-set. As such, young people need to adjust their mind-sets by being constant learners of life and all the knowledge that comes along with it. This can be reinforced by bearing in mind that there is no absolute knowledge of anything, which is why there is always an opportunity to learn.

How do Youth Day celebrations promote nation building?

This year’s celebrations mark the 48th anniversary of the 16 June 1976 student uprising in Soweto, which is commemorated under the theme ‘Actively advancing the socio-economic gains of our democracy’. Sport for the development of youth and the nation were among the key areas of focus of the month that led up to Youth Day. The celebrations used the power of sport to promote nation building with youth at the forefront.

How do you interpret UP’s slogan, “Make Today Matter”?

A personal interpretation is simply to live in the present moment and make the most of it. This is reinforced by UP’s credo, which is that within every moment of every day lies the potential to change the world and that, by taking positive action today, we can positively impact our futures. It is a very powerful slogan that has the ability to guide young people in the UP community to stay focused and avoid being distracted by the multitude of events and routines of student and social life that can easily cloud their judgment and lead them astray. It is a constant reminder of the importance for one to give their very best in order to seize opportunities and stay the course, keeping their eyes on the prize and crafting a better future.


Article written by Jimmy Masombuka

 Irene Nyakagere Thomas

Irene Nyakagere Thomas