Despite persistent problems such as poverty, unemployment crime and corruption, the National Youth Council (NYC) is hopeful that the future for Namibian youth is bright. NYC executive chairperson, Mandela Kapere, this week spoke extensively on matters affecting the youth in the country and in the process expressed concern over the youth that Namibian youth are fragmented. Due to space constraints, we could not publish the full interview last week. This week we publish the second part of the interview.
How is NYC handling political differences among young Namibians?
One of the biggest challenges that we had when I came to NYC was the fact that NYC was heavily fragmented politically. We had on the one hand the perceptions and the views that NYC was an extension of the Swapo Party Youth League and you had a complete mistrust from other political youth forums of anything that had to come from the leadership and so on. And I think we have worked very hard to regain the trust of all the youth organisations and that all of them have an equal say in the affairs of the Youth Council. NYC is run by the Youth Council, so whatever you see is coming out of here, this is organisations coming together and saying what the youth want and not the ideas of sections of Mandela Kapere or whatever. We are merely instruments to capture the views of the 40 or so affiliates of the council.
We really worked hard to make sure that all youth organisations have confidence in the ability of the institution to listen to them. I think we are now at that stage, where, for example, for the first time in a very long time, like 15 years, we have even people from opposition youth leagues being elected in leadership positions in the council.
We have, for example, established an annual political youth forum where we bring together young people from different political parties and political persuasions and say, we can differ ideologically and politically but at least in terms of the developmental imperatives, we can agree.
Another emphasis of deepening democracy and pluralism is the youth leadership development programme. So whether you are RDP or even whether you are from different groupings within the Swapo Party Youth League or whatever, we take all young people who have potential. We put them through that programme and give them an opportunity to emerge.
These are clear demonstrations to show that we are geared and wired here really to look at developing young leaders with potential and not to perpetuate difference. And I think a number of [times] where we have done that.
But, of course, we are also limited by the extent to which we can go to certain youth organisations and say you can do that but broadly in terms of deepening democratic ideals in terms of promoting tolerism and in terms of entrenching pluralism we have a number of programmes specifically addressed to that. But also the culture in the organisation has changed significantly over the last couple of years.
Youth unemployment is rife in Namibia, how do you think it should be tackled?
There must really be greater emphasis to expanding access to vocational training, number one.
Number two, is we need to see the broadening of the skills sets that vocational schools are developing. You see that electrical training, plumbing, and office administration which are good but we also need to ask ourselves that to what extent does the vocational training sector train young people to support Namibia where it is economically competitive. We are competitive in the fishing sector, in the mining sector, it is in the transport and logistics sector.
So I do not see a correlation sometimes between the skills sets development in vocational institutions with those ones that we know drive Namibia’s economy. We need to do more. I want to see more.
For example Namibia, has a highly developed animal husbandry sector. Now the art of butchery of producing material, producing products from that is not there, it is something that we are not just training our young people.
Namibia produces gold and diamonds, what are we doing in order to ensure that we develop capacity within our vocational sectors to produce jewellers, to produce people who can cut and to produce people who can assess and so on and so on… So I think that is one of the things that are missing.
Another thing that should be done and I think this one that is controversial, especially with the unions, is that I think we should create incentives for companies who must create incentives for internships and opportunities for skills development for young graduates and those who create jobs for them. We must create incentives either through tax or through state subsidies.
Because employment is disproportionately skewed against young people, if you are young, the market has certain negative prejudices against employing young workers. They are lazy, they inexperienced, they only want to sit in offices and so forth.
So you must create incentives to make industry want to take in young people to make sure that they are sufficiently skilled because it will not happen unless you induce that to happen either through penalties [or other means]. I think the best way is created inducement for companies to take on interns, paid internship as well not just internships because now there is an emerging culture globally that we are seeing of young people who go into internships but they are just being exploited.
Some of them are not being paid anything and are told that they being given experience – that is exploitation.
So, I think it is important that there must be incentives for companies that are producing employment opportunities for young people.
Common challenges of high unemployment and poverty rates frustrate Namibia’s youth. However, it also seems to embolden the country’s politically active youth to work harder, and together. Is this the case?
I think I can attest to the fact that there is a high degree of frustration and for many of us this frustration has been sustained over many years. I remember when I first had the opportunity to come to the National Youth Council my immediate reaction was frustration and outrage. That was the immediate reaction.
I remember there was a particular occasion that myself and other activists were interviewed on Talk of the Nation and our tone was just frustration, nothing is happening and nothing is happening. And over time we have realised that the system itself has a number of bottlenecks that many of us do not understand. The system itself sometimes does not know what should happen.
So, I have come to the view that where we can we should try to enhance understanding around how things can change and how things improve because within the system itself there is no understanding of how things can change and how things can improve.
Even if you are frustrated from the outside you will not be able to [understand], sometimes the approach is to help the system to understand how it needs to change. And with the youth sector you can definitely see that we just do not have understanding, we do not have perspectives in terms of how we can best operationalise the sector.
So some of us have taken this approach of saying we now have an opportunity to engage with the system and how can we adequately engage with system to say these are the transformations that we need. That we begin to see. One of the challenges of actually getting impact there is the constant change of leadership within the youth sector.
I mean, every year, if we do not have a new Minister we will have a new PS or a new Director. So that is a serious challenge and that is a serious flaw that needs to be addressed. To say how do we create stability so that we can begin to have programmes and approaches that are consistent and we can deal strategically with the funding problems that we have and so on.
So I agree with you, there is this embodiment of hardening of perspectives from the youth and the more we remain unrelenting and unresponsive the more they will just become harder. It is very important that we need to have stability, we need to have perspectives, and we need to have leadership that must have clear perspectives about where the sector must go so that the sector can become responsive to the challenges of young people
I think there is a real challenge in Namibia that we do not appreciate the deep reality of the fact that in many sectors, we really lack skills on many basic things and the bottlenecks that this creates.
I also think that the lack of adequate funding in a number of sectors creates serious bottlenecks.
But one of the things that I have really seen is a shortage of implementation capacity and skills in our public sector to really effect the ideas that we have on paper. And we do not appreciate that, for some reason we do not make that a priority to say we need to address the skills deficit of whether it is policy analyst or whether it is people on operational level. I mean I just look at the youth development sector, the majority of the people employed in the sector are either teachers or nurses which we appreciate but unless you train people specifically to come and deal with youth development challenges, you will not have impact that is durable.
The national education system seems to be struggling annually to produce the desired results despite billions being pumped into the sector. Is this a concern to NYC?
I think one of the challenges that we have, a couple of years we had a National Youth Week where we had to concentrate on creating education and employment for all at higher education. And one of the challenges that emerged was, we seem to be very indecisive in terms of policy positions and we keep shifting from one thing to another.
And we seem to take too much time to come to positions sometimes. For example, government is now implementing technical subjects in at least one high school in every region. In the past, we used to have these, but we dismantled that infrastructure and we got rid of that but now we are going back to that.
We have had the issue of early childhood development that was part of the formal education system, then taken out of the education system and now being brought back and so on.
So, one of the things that we need to deal with is indecisiveness when it comes to key issues in the education sector.
Another thing that I think is a challenge is that as a society we have placed the burden of education too much on schools and on teachers. We have placed the burden too much on the state.
And as parents and as young people ourselves, we seem to be absolving of responsibilities in a lot of cases. There are structural issues that I agree with, like infrastructure and textbooks and teacher training. But despite that, I want to be able to see more parents taking responsibility for their kids.
Sometimes you are shocked, you find kids on the streets at 11am and you ask yourself what the parents are really doing to take responsibility to make sure that their kids are brought up as they should be.
Another thing is also, the young people ourselves, the extent of responsibility that we take for our own lives. We cannot build society and develop society unless citizens are consciously aware of their own role in their personal development and subsequently role in the development of society.
I personally do not think we appreciate that too much. We are grooming a society of people who delegate everything to the state, even things that are in our own homes, and that is not a healthy tendency. It will weaken us as a society, rather than strengthen us. So, one of the things that I certainly want to see, without taking away from the fact that there are structural issues that must be addressed, we want to see more involvement of parents and more responsibilities of parents that take within the equation as well as young people themselves.
In terms of structural issues, this is now the issue of infrastructure itself and teacher training, the quality of teacher training. There have been a number of positive things that have happened. We have seen the salary structure within the teaching profession has really been looked at and being addressed so I think there is seriousness to make sure that teaching becomes an attractive profession because it is quite competitive if you look at what has been done.
But we have also seen a correlation between where you have serious leadership in a school and the results that are being produced. So we need to improve to make sure that we have stronger leadership in school educational management. We have failure in schools because we have failure in leadership. So more needs to be done to produce stronger leaders in the sector. And I think we need to accelerate.
Namibia is a very big country and the distance between schools and sometimes where people are is a serious matter of concern. And the only way that you can deal with that is really by having hostelling facilities. We have not seen an adequate amount of investment in that kind of infrastructure. And the infrastructure that has been there has been allowed to become dilapidated.
And one of the things that we were saying is that the level of supervision and management at hostels has also really gone down. When some of us used to be in the hostels, hostel management was not only an issue of making sure that you have eaten but at a level of supervision that really had an interest in making sure that the kid’s psycho-social life has been attended to. We do not see that anymore from hostel supervisors. Making sure that the kids are studying, making sure that they are in bed at certain times
And unfortunately hostelling is a reality of our system because of how big the country is, the distance between the communities and so forth.
Therefore, sometimes instead of building schools everywhere, maybe sometimes what we need to look at is how to ensure that we have an effective hostelling system that is able to manage kids while they are there.
So, these are just some of the ideas, we do have written positions on some of these things, we have a number of forums of leadership on some of these things and we see that the secretary for the opposition is calling for another conference on education and I think sometimes we tend to call for conferences when we are stuck in terms of what needs to done.
I think what needs to be done is we really have a clear idea of what the ideas are therefore what we need is the capacity to implement and provide leadership. And I think there are serious bottlenecks in terms of capacity.
The issue of the struggle kids is refusing to die down. Does NYC have any plans or suggestions on how this issue can be resolved permanently?
The struggle kids, I think is conceptually the most difficult issue because we have these people in our society who have gone through these unique circumstances which we all do not deny. They have gone to war and some of them do not know their parents and maybe there have inadequate programmes to reintegrate them back into society.
So, on the one hand, you accept that. On the other hand, you accept that poverty and unequal development is something that affects all Namibians. So, whether you were in exile or not, whether you were in the struggle or not, we are all afflicted by one or another social or economic circumstance.
Whether it is deep poverty and it is also the same thing that I tell people when we talk about land. To say that yes we recognise that there are affected communities, in the south; in Omaheke, that were dispossessed of their land and that somehow the policy must speak to them. But what we also recognise is that poverty is universal in Namibia, whether you are in Zambezi, Ohangwena, poverty is real and is there for everybody.
And policies such as land distribution and youth development are meant to address those who are far behind. So our approaches need to be balanced to look at the situation of struggle kids. Having things such as reserved jobs for exile kids and so on; I certainly do not support that.
I do not support that at all because we recognise the individual circumstances of people but we must also recognise that our circumstances are universal and that there is a unique circumstance that applies to the majority of our people. So our policies must recognise those major sets of imbalances that we have and the struggle kids is only one of those. We have so many others, we have youth with disabilities, we young people from marginalised communities, so our response must be to say okay, we recognise that there are struggle kids maybe in terms of new positions that we are going to fill; we are going to take some of you. When we do land distribution, we say okay there are these issues of the community, but also there are those regions were poverty is extremely rife, for example Ohangwena region, Zambezi region, Kunene region, Omusati region.
Those are the regions where we get highest incidences of poverty, so this approach of sometimes saying only our situation should be looked at is not helpful for balanced development.
Struggle kids continue to claim that they do not want training but jobs. Do you think they are being unfair in their demands?
I think on the issue of struggle kids issue, there is no policy position because there seem to be different perspectives and also from different ministers of youth coming in the perspectives seem to change. So, that is one of the challenges and I think it is not a difficult policy position to recognise that special category of young people that need youth development. But that must be balanced against other categories of special young people who need to be urgently prioritised.
Now, sometimes we have this approach of saying either this one or that one, no, it does not have to be that way. Sometimes you can look at a situation and then say how do we balance it but we cannot ignore the fact that these kids exist.