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youth leadership conference 2019

BY Azraa Rockman

The youth’s say, while paving the way to our future
If I were to choose a single adjective to describe this year’s Jeugleiers’s Konferensie, in all honesty, it would simply be an understatement. Held at Hoërskool Jan van Riebeeck from 6th to 12th December, alongside 49 other Head Prefects from the Northern, Western and Eastern Cape, I was given the opportunity to branch further into various defining aspects of leadership, while making wholesome memories in the process. Under this year’s theme, “Die Jeug se Inspraak in Hul Toekoms”, we were given the platform to question the rules set before us and suggest ways in which we could challenge the youth to bend these rules to ensure that we have a say in our own futures.
The first day of the conference had begun with our official arrival at Hoërskool Jan van Riebeeck. Keeping in mind that I would be in the proximity of 49 perfect strangers for the span of an entire week, I was, for the most part, a bit anxious for the road ahead of me. However, within mere minutes of introductions and nervous handshakes shared amongst my fellow Youth Leaders and any previous feelings of unease were exchanged for that of relief, seeing that we all seemed to establish a common ground instantly, as far as the nerves were concerned. After fully familiarising ourselves with one another, our very first welcoming had been carried through by Mr Barry Volshenk, Chairperson of the Youth Leaders’ Conference, as he explained the conference procedures and what was to be expected from the week ahead. Thereafter, we were divided into three groups, namely Education (Group 1), Social (Group 2) and Economic (Group 3), where we were to deliver individual speeches regarding how we as the youth could create change in the economic, social and educational spheres in South Africa under the conference’s theme for this year. At the evening’s Opening Conference, I was able to deliver the vote of thanks to our guest speaker, Pieter du Toit—author of The Stellenbosch Mafia-- who had given us his insight on the future of South Africa, and had assured us that what lies ahead for our country is not as bleak as it may seem, provided that we take initiative to generate positive change for the benefit of both our generation, and generations to come.
After having adapted a bit more to our surroundings, we were ready to begin our second day, which had also begun with a bout of excitement, as we were able to see our very own faces in Saturday’s edition of Die Burger, under the header ‘Nuwe groep jeugleiers arriveer in Moederstad’. The day’s excitement had not simply ended there, however, as we were thereafter given a full tour of all the ‘must-see’ spots of the Mother City on the world-renowned Red Bus Tour. After our treat to the great outdoors, we were then given a chance to work on our individual speeches, where all 50 of us were given the opportunity to collaborate on ideas and assist each other in the process.
Monday had begun with the first round of speeches, where the members of Group 1 were given their chance to voice how they could make a change in the problematic aspects that coincided with the education in South Africa. Many different points were raised, but the most evident issue, as portrayed by the speeches, seemed to be that the system of education poses a limit to individual creativity and divergent thinking amongst learners. Our guest speaker, Professor E. Schwella, Professor of Public Leadership at Stellenbosch University, thereafter provided his insight on education, stating that the objective of teaching is supposed to comprise of the stimulation of both creativity and analytical thinking within young minds, therefore creating a balance between these two important factors. The rest of the day allowed for us to unwind from the conference procedures, as we made our trip to the Zeitz Mocaa contemporary art museum. It was particularly eye opening to see how world issues such as racism and even global warming are noticed by many modern-day South African artists, and how art is, in fact, an essential medium for expressing these global issues. On arrival back to Hoërskool Jan van Riebeeck, we were given an hour to rest before our Konferensiekonsert, where many unexpected talents were given the platform to surface from amongst our Youth Leaders. The performances ranged from ukulele players to pianists, while even a few vocalists were given their moment to shine. The night had ended when all 50 of us spontaneously decided to showcase our very own rendition of “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, much to the enjoyment of Mr Desmond Smith, Group Leader of the Social Group, who was first to join in the fun. So in all, the whole Konferensiekonsert had definitely given us something to look back on, and may even be deemed the most entertaining night of the week.
During Tuesday’s visit to the beautiful Stellenbosch University, we were given a tour of the university campus by the readily available staff members, as well as insight on the perks of university life. Professor Gillian Ardense, Professor in Nuclear Physics, had also given us insight on the future of the world in the hands of artificial intelligence, as well as the changes that the Fourth Industrial Revolution promises for the youth of today. The day’s proceedings had also given us the opportunity to listen to Group 2’s take on how the youth could have a say in their own future from a social perspective, with problematic aspects such as unemployment and inadequate housing, as well as issues related to overpopulation through immigration being raised. Following the speeches, we had been given the chance to have a group debate on how these issues can be resolved. Our day ended with a trip to Byerskloof Wynplaas for dinner, where we had been accompanied by the staff of Stellenbosch University.
Day 3 had begun with the final round of our speeches. Being placed in Group 3 myself, where the key focus was on economics, I was able to use what I’d remembered from my Grade 8 and 9 EMS lessons (thanks, Mrs du Plessis!) and had provided my take on entrepreneurship amongst the youth, suggesting that by using innate abilities to establish a niche job opportunities, that the youth could have a greater and more active participation in promoting the economic sphere of South Africa. What I’d found most heart-warming about the experience was that apart from the positive reviews that I’d received from my fellow Youth Leaders with regards to my speech, it was in seeing my very own words quoted in Thursday’s edition of Die Burger that assured me that I was doing Riebeek proud.  Our official closing dinner was held at the spectacular Meerendal Wine Estate, where final remarks of the week’s happenings were made by our Mr Volshenk. Here, we were also awarded with our certificates of participation for actively taking part in the event and were congratulated for our hard work throughout the week. Thereafter, the Jeugleiers’s Konferensie had officially been brought to a close.
This, as well as our day of departure from Hoërskool Jan van Riebeeck the following morning was most definitely tear jerking, seeing that all 50 of us had grown so close and accustomed to being in each other’s presence. It was particularly challenging to grasp how in only a week, we seemed to have had completely forgotten about the initial feelings of uncertainty upon meeting, and made something special out of it—instantaneous bonds that have the capacity to last forever. I truly believe that while the outings may be deemed exciting and the conference speeches exceptionally informative, that meeting new people and learning more about them had been my favourite part of the journey. This, I think, is why I cannot simply limit my description of the week’s happenings to only one word: because a single word could not possibly do justice to describe the experience, and the astounding young leaders that the world is yet to welcome. So to my fellow Youth Leaders, I would like to thank you for sharing this experience with me, and I wish you the best of luck for the year of service ahead.
I would also like to thank Mrs Snyman for being so actively involved in the process leading up to the conference, and for constantly encouraging me to take part in this unforgettable experience. Thank you, Mrs Gerber for always going the extra mile in everything that you do and for greatly assisting in the behind-the-scenes work that ensured that my application for this conference was successful. Lastly, I would like to thank my parents for their unconditional support along the way, as well as the sacrifices that had been made to ensure that everything ran smoothly in the days leading to this trip, as well as the days leading from it. I do not think that I would have made it this far, had it not been for all of the guiding hands that had been there to assist me along the way.
I fully understand that this conference had exposed me to the lessons that I have yet to learn in the year ahead of me, as it has shown me that, in collaboration with other minds, leadership will take its most successful form. It was truly inspiring to hear about many of the backstories of my fellow Youth Leaders, as well as the paths to the future that they wish to take. In this way, this conference has further showed me that even as the youth, we have our own say, stemmed from our dreams of a better future, and that we do not have to feel bound to a single set idea or the negative influences surrounding us. I had stated in my conference speech that the cards that the future holds are in fact cards of our own, and that it is up to us to play them well and become masters of the game ahead. Therefore, it becomes even more clear to me that although we might not have a clear path showing us what is yet to come, that we still have the ability to pave that path ourselves, both as the youth, and as ordinary people who only want the most from our futures.

photogpraph kindly supplied by Die Burger

 December 23, 2019
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2020
Azraa Rockman

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