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SA needs to push the reset button and develop new government and education structures if it hopes to overcome inequality.

This is according to advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC, the keynote speaker at Nelson Mandela University’s (NMU) fourth annual Youth Convention.

The two-day webinar sees several academics tackling the issue of youth development under the theme “Rethinking structural inequality in SA: Towards youth development and social justice”. The lawyer, public speaker, author, political activist and member of the South African Law Reform Commission said there was a need for new government structures and universities in the hope of overcoming this inequality.

Gauteng MPL Fasiha Hassan and researcher and economist Busi Sibeko were part of the discussion.

Student Representative Council president Pontsho Hlongwane and NMU vicechancellor Prof Sibongile Muthwa were guest speakers on the first day of the seminar yesterday.

NMU dean of students Luthando Jack said the convention had been inspired by the struggles of the youth, in particular students between 2015 and 2017, who were known as the “Fees Must Fall generation”.

“When we were reflecting as NMU, we [realised] that perhaps we need to centre the youth going forward by placing youth development on the agenda for NMU.

“Essentially, we are trying to do an intergenerational dialogue between young people and those [older than 35] to talk about what needs to be done to centre youth development in our country.

“This year’s theme is focusing on the question of inequality in our country, trying to look at what it is that needs to be done to bring about youth development and the important question of social justice,” Jack said.

Ngcukaitobi, in conversation with Hassan and Sibeko, said: “Apartheid’s lifespan was short, from 1948 to 1994, less than 50 years, yet it looms large in our minds.

“I want to look at how inequality began in historical terms. For two centuries before apartheid became a South African government policy, this country was run by the Dutch and the British.

“The British had laid the seeds of racial segregation, property dispossession and the construction of racial supremacy.

“We are unable to make sense of today’s SA unless we contextualise the destructive role played by the British and [several] things loom large — labour, land, asset dispossession and the imposition of an external culture coded as civilisation,” Ngcukaitobi said.

He said poverty remained higher for women regionally.

Out of the 20 poorest municipalities in SA, 15 were from the Eastern Cape.

“Capitalism needs to be reformed, we will come back in the next 10 years, we will complain about high levels of unemployment and high levels of inequality, because we are tinkering with the system at the margins.

“We are not addressing the underlying structural problems. You have black people who had land and their assets taken from them.

“The system does not enable them to build assets, it makes it impossible for them to build assets.

“We need universities that are not a photocopy of European universities, we need African universities that focus on solving African issues.

“If anything is to be remembered of what I said today, it is that it is impossible to confront the future without appreciating what the past was like,” Ngcukaitobi said.

Hassan said decolonising universities was important and having universities that were not the blueprint of colonial universities was essential.

Hassan said throughout history the youth had fought for change and young people needed to be reminded that they were the best people to make a change.

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 28 September 2021 written by Simtembile Mgidi

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