Address by Deputy Minister Marius Fransman at the Celebration of the 48th Africa Day, held at the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg on Saturday 28th May 2011

Programme Director;
Honorable Members of Cabinet;
Members of National Assembly/ Portfolio Committee Members
Members of the Pan African Parliament;
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen;

It is a great honour and privilege for us to host, on this auspicious occasion, the 48th Anniversary of Africa Day. 48 years ago, in 1963 marking the birth of the Organisation of Africa Unity (OAU) our leaders had an unambiguous vision of an African continent that would be free from variants of oppressions and deprivations inhumanely inflicted by those who thought that Africans are a people of lesser humanity. Precisely, 17 years ago the final push for this great vision was realised when South Africa attained freedom, annihilating apartheid from the statuette books.

It is in tribute to the great visionaries and ordinary people of our continent-from the resting place of pharaohs in Sukut (soekoot) Egypt in the east; to Sokoto (Nigeria) the home of Usman Danfodio in the West; from the home of the Sanusi Omar Mukhtar Libya in the North to Soweto home of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in the South; to all of these and many others Like Kwameh Nkruma, Mualima Julius Nyerere, Augustino Neto we acknowledge a debt of gratitude. Through them and generation after generation of African mothers, fathers, daughters and sons, that have sacrificed life and limb so that we may dream of a better tomorrow.

In their honour we read the words of the African American poet Langston Hughes called “dreams”.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

As we reflect on this 48th Africa Day on our theme of Youth Empowerment, we must indeed acknowledge that there still remain many barren fields frozen with snow. The recent events in the North of our continent reflect the struggles of ordinary women and men and the road that we must still walk and the dreams we must still fulfil.

Programme Director

The AU has directed us to celebrate this historic day by acknowledging the fact that the Youth is the bedrock of the continent’s march towards socio-political and economic stability. Consequently, the 2011 Africa Day celebration theme is “Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development.”

Through this theme, the African Union is calling on us to be mindful of the fact that, whilst we have managed to free ourselves from colonialism and apartheid we have yet to free ourselves entirely from political and economic oppression; there is a greater need to invest in our future through empowerment and leadership of the youth, taking into account that our youth make up about 62% of the continental population.

According to the Draft Concept Paper in preparation for the July 2011 Summit, more than half of these young people live on less than 2 USD a day, while 6000 of them are infected with HIV/AIDS every day, mostly girls in Sub-Saharan Africa.  It is therefore appropriate that the AU is particularly concerned that if these challenges are not addressed with vigour, the youth will continue to be vulnerable and become weak, thus delaying the continent’s economic growth.

In 1961, two years before the OAU was born, OR Tambo, the late President of the African National Congress, addressed the second Pan-African Youth Seminar in Dar es Salaam.  The crux of his address was, "Racial problems in South Africa". Having eloquently analysed the racial challenges as manifested in various parts of the world, and South Africa in particular, he ventured to propose that unity amongst the oppressed should be the pivotal cornerstone on which we continue to build a foundation to solve this problem.

But before he could expand on unity being the solution, he conceded to the following to his young audience that and I Quote “Unity must be a tired word, overused everywhere, by everybody. We are always talking of unity. I am a member of the United Front, the South African United Front. We talk about unity in Africa, we spoke about it before the first All-African Peoples` Conference, it was spoken of when Pan-Africanism was first discussed, it was mentioned at Bandung, hardly a month ago we were discussing unity at Accra, and the theme of this conference is unity. I think the important thing to raise here is that unity does not grow wild. It has to be nurtured, built up, it wears away. It must be doctored, treated. It also has many enemies like the enemies that enter any plant that you grow, and you have to keep vigilant against these. And where does unity begin and where does it end?” Unquote

The unity we speak of is not a theoretical unity, but the unity in action of the youth and not so youthful that we observed on Tahrir Square; it is the unity informed by the firm resolve that change is not just necessary it is inevitable and like the people of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia the revolution will not be silenced; the South African experience of the 1976 uprising of young people has taught the lesson that regardless of how huge the obstacle or enemy that we confront is; even if the only weapons are rocks and stones, we shall overcome!

Ladies and gentlemen; I am reminded of the great Indian poet Iqbal who said that: “That nation is not in need of sword/weapon, the character of whose youth is strong like steel.” Today, more than ever youth on our continent must be rallied to dream once again; the task ahead requires that we abandon disillusionment and direct our youth on a course of action that will truly put our continent on a winning track.

I always relate the story of the Cuban experience-a small island nation under siege and embargo for over five decades-with historically very little strategic resources-yet with a remarkable record of success in mobilising young people:

  • To uproot illiteracy

  • Be a lead provider of medical and primary health-care in the developing world

  • Produce generation after generation of highly skilled and educated young people as professionals in engineering and related technical fields

  • Develop world class research in renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and agri-industries.

All of these have been possible because of visionary leadership and the power of young people to organise themselves through committees for the defence of the revolution.

Programme director, Ladies and gentlemen; perhaps it is time that we seriously review the mechanisms and institutional support that is in place to drive our youth empowerment ambitions. Our programmes for youth empowerment must be underpinned by:

  • Leadership development

  • Strong skills and capacity building expertise

  • Leveraging significant resources to optimise impact

  • Thorough assessment of material conditions and interventions required

  • Ongoing monitoring and evaluation to ensure realignment and reinforced of strategic goals and objectives

Ladies and gentlemen

Having said that, I Indeed want to acknowledge the continent is vigorous is ensuring that the notion of accelerating youth empowerment for sustainable development is a priority. However we must do more and we must do better and faster. Recent history in particular will reveal that a great number of African governments are now keen to open up space for the youth to engage on significant policy discussion and development. This is done in order to take in to consideration the needs of the youth as various governments design economic development policies. For instance, the majority of governments in Africa have signed the African Youth Charter; declared 2009-2018 as the Decade of the Youth, whose 10 year plan of action has been approved. 

The fact that the theme of the July Summit of Heads of State and Government will be premised on the issues of youth is the strongest indication that there is every practical intention on our part to nurture, build up, doctor and treat the ideals that would help our youth to be engaged on the drive by the continent to achieve sustainable economic growth.

As youth have repeatedly demonstrated, they can play a pivotal role in shaping the political, economic and social landscape. We ignore their potential at our own peril. As government we have identified Youth as an important sector in our economic development and performance and in his state of the nation address President Zuma called on us to ensure that the job creation drive should also enhance youth development. This statement by the President finds expression in the constitution of the Republic of South Africa and we have institutional frameworks and policies such National Youth Development Agency, which is aimed at addressing challenges and opportunities by the youth for the youth. Our young people have made the call to say, “Nothing about us, without us”.

Distinguished guests

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you, encouraged by the great strides we have made to date, confident that a peaceful, united and prosperous Africa is within reach.  We will therefore continue to do our level best to ensure that the future of our Continent will be one that we can be proud of.

Let me conclude by saying history has shown us that Youth, if given positive space can become positive agents of change. In the words of that great revolutionary and friend of Africa Che’ Guevara when he said: “The basic clay of our work is the youth; we place our hope in it and prepare it to take the banner from our hands. May this 48th Africa day indeed became a great milestone on the long walk to economic freedom and prosperity for all, and especially, the young people of our continent.

I thank you.

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