Celebrating Youth Day doesn’t mean much unless we actually start listening to what young people are telling us.

I had a chat with Zuko Mhlakaza-Mnukwa, a 24 year old youth leader in Driftsands who has been working for a number of years to create change in his community. With no funding or outside help, Zuko leads a grassroots youth organisation called Driftsands Youth In Action. He has mobilised his peers in creating youth events, celebrating the women of his community and showing young people how to be leaders in their own lives. He’s led the way in combating homophobia and attending to the needs of children in his community. This impressive young man is proof that our future is in great  hands.

DYA’s motto is “Nothing about us, without us”. Evolving from various historical social justice movements, this idea is at the heart of everything they do. Solutions to our challenges will never come from the outside in – we need to trust that our young people already know what they need to do. Our #creativeyouth have the answers. We just need to share our tools with them, then get out of their way while they do it.

Follow DYA on Facebook here.

4 quick questions with Zuko:

TE: What meaning does Youth Day hold for you personally?

ZMM: Youth Day to me means the day when South African political climate changed forever, because young people decided to take action and make change. It symbolises unity & courage. I personally do not “celebrate” it, but commemorate those young souls who still inspire me 40 years later, to stand up and make change.

TE: What are the challenges facing your peers and young people? What can we do?

ZMM:  We live in a country where the socio-economic climate isn’t favourable to the youth. Job creation is getting thinner and unemployment is on the rise and that breeds most of the challenges facing the youth today: crime, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy etc. We have to mobilise our peers to create our own opportunities by involving ourselves and overcoming these challenges together. There’s strength in numbers.

TE: Tell me about Zuko. What’s important to you? What’s your challenge?

ZMM: The most important thing to me is action. I’m all about doing anything that creates positive social transformation and standing up against any social injustices.

I am a feminist, atheist, black and gay. That means my whole identity is a challenge. I have to go through each day curving my way in a patriarchal, heteronormative and religious community and having to unlearn years of indoctrination.

TE: Talk to the older generation. Tell them what they should be hearing.

ZMM: I wish older people could understand that each generation is different from the last so they mustn’t expect us to live like they used to but rather allow us  to find our own way and guide us. Times have changed, I wish they can adapt and embrace change.

Our #creativeyouth are speaking out. Are we listening?