NYDA Sifiso Mtsweni
The chairman of the NYDA Board, Sifiso Mtsweni, was in Alexandria on Monday to interact with the community at large. Image: Hennie Marais

Ndlambe is soon to have a National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) office opening its doors in Alexandria following talks between the NYDA and the Municipality.

NYDA board chairperson Sifiso Mtsweni, who was in Alexandria on Monday, as part of the  outreached programme,  to engage with learners at Alexandria High School, also met with Councillor Phindile Faxi, Mayor of Ndlambe, to discuss the possibility of starting an NYDA office in the town.

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Faxi, who holds youth development close to his heart, agreed to make office space available to the NYDA and will now draw up a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate youth development.

Mtsweni said, “We decided to start off in Alexandria, as it has no real opportunities for young people; there is no industry or economic activity or jobs for them. Because young people are destitute on the outskirts, we prefer to start there to capacitate them before moving inwards.  Port Alfred at least has some economic activity despite its size. In the end, however, we want to be visible in all corners of the area.”

Mtsweni was concerned that matric results in the Eastern Cape were not necessarily encouraging. He said that it could be that young people in the region lack facilities and opportunities.  “So we as an agency want to encourage young people to look beyond the confines of their own spaces, especially those within rural areas like Alexandria,” said Mtsweni.

As a first step, the NYDA had pledged to assist with refurbishing Alexandria High School,  which is in a dilapidated state.  A few students have also been nominated for assistance with their studies.  Poor households were identified and learners from those families were assisted with school uniforms and shoes as part of the NYDA’s efforts to get learners back to school.

Mtsweni, who has always been a youth activist, believes that a culture of self-reliance must be inculcated. “Our youth must become ambitious achievers. They must start to believe in themselves and grab all opportunities available to them and make something with that for themselves,” he said.

According to Mtsweni, the lack of access to information impacts negatively on learners, as students often do not even know what they want to become once they finish school. To overcome this the NYDA intends to offer career guidance, mentorship programmes and SMMe development programmes to learners. “Even if we can only help five or 10 youngsters, we would have done something to help the community,” he said.

The issue of education funding in the country has been a very thorny subject for a long time, according to Mtsweni.

“We had become accustomed to various student protests filling up the streets, so firstly we welcome the announcement by the President, as it is long overdue. In the future, I think it will go down as one of the most historical moments that this country has ever experienced. We are however concerned about public commentary around this issue, with people insinuating that government has no money or that the announcement was populist. The gist of the issue is that if you are a developmental state that takes itself very seriously and you say that education is one of your apex priorities, you cannot look at the budgeting of government with education not being at the centre of it.”

“Basic education has done well except for a few pockets, but with higher education we have had the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, which was nothing but a loan or a debt. We said that this must rather become a grant. The rationale of what defines a young person or a poor person also had to be addressed, so with the new threshold of R350 000, 90 percent of families can now send their children to university. So for the NYDA, it was a very important announcement,” said Mtsweni.

The NYDA board members will be visiting all universities during the enrollment period to monitor first-year registrations.

“I would also wish to caution about reckless statements made by certain leaders of opposition parties who say that students should barge universities, as it is reckless and populist. Those learners who are academically deserving must be able to benefit from this. We do believe that in the long run, it will encourage young people to get an education so that their dreams can become closer and without the burden of having to pay back a debt after studies were completed,” Mtsweni said.

The quality of education in South Africa has been steadily rising, to the extent that rural  learners are now doing well in mathematics and science, according to Mtsweni. “I think we are starting to make inroads, but the argument has always been to bring in a unified education system with the required resources and with the best-skilled teachers. With a dual education system, the public sector is losing out on some of the skills that can be imparted to the young people. If we do this I think we will get the necessary quality of learning that we need in the country.”

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