‘Put young voices behind youth policies’

14 June 2016 | Youth

Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a young Swazi-Botswana university student, currently studying at the University of Botswana, and is a writer and social media personality. Through her blog, Siyanda addresses a variety of issues affecting young people in Africa including identity, democracy, and culture. She started the hashtag #ifafricawasabar, which went viral, as a means to get Africans talking light-heartedly about their countries. Recently she was invited to do a Ted Talk in Amsterdam about her experiences as young writer and advocate.
Siyanda recently visited Unicef-supported adolescent and HIV programmes in Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland and Namibia, where she met and spoke to young people affected by and or working with HIV.
While on visit to Namibia and other SADC Countries, she investigated some of the key issues they face such as stigma, peer pressure, as well as important socio-economic challenges such as youth unemployment. Each visit was documented by a videographer, with the footage to be made available online, as well as on selected channels on DSTV. Siyanda also tweeted about her journey, as well as making blog entries which will be promoted on Unicef social media platforms.
When The Zone spoke to Siyanda about how she became a Unicef Special Youth Reporter, she recalled the experience saying that the relationship started through the Botswana office reaching out to her after hearing about her work online as well as locally in Botswana.
“First I was called up by Unicef Botswana to meet with the Unicef South Africa team and from there they wanted me to gauge my interests in topics relating to HIV and young people and as they say the rest is history,” Siyanda remarked,
As a self-identified social-pan Africanist, Siyanda says that the work that she will be doing for the next couple of months is very much in tune with her ideals and the work that she would love to do in her personal capacity as well.
“Most of my trip here as in the other countries that I am visiting, is centred around finding out how the young people in these countries take control of HIV/Aids prevention and treatment programmes, as well as other social issues pertaining to young people. The real journey and purpose is to listen. I am here to learn with everyone else,” which she says is what Unicef wanted.
“I am not an expert and I probably won’t be after these three months, but the experience has really been rewarding and that is something that I can take away with me after this is done with.”
Siyanda went to Swaziland in April and was in South Africa earlier this month where she visited the township of Alexandria and then came back to Windhoek.
When asked about where her social-pan Africanist identity came from she remarked that it was living between Swaziland and Botswana.
“When we moved from Swaziland to Botswana, I was very young. I was learning about my culture from the outside when I moved to Botswana, in terms of language and cultural queues. It had a very peculiar experience on me, because when I went back to Swaziland, I wasn’t Swazi anymore, I didn’t speak Siswati, but I also wasn’t completely Motswana either.
“So I became obsessed with the idea of a shared African identity. I started reading Steve Biko, and Franz Fanon who spoke about what the bigger vision of Africa should be and I believe that I am the next step in making that vision a reality by helping to take pan-Africanism from an elitist African ideology to something that can mean something to the average African, something that can benefit the average African at the grassroots level,” Siyanda shared with The Zone.
Siyanda also told The Zone that she was very interested in the fate of young Africans. She also believes that our fates are intertwined on the continent.
“If something happens in Burundi, those refugees share the consequences of the war and destruction with the ordinary people in the neighbouring countries. In that spirit it would also just make sense for us to share the language, food, culture, a shared identity.”
“The idea of social pan-Africanism for me is us sharing the successes because we share the consequences. We need to do better in sharing the successes.
“That is why my trip here is so important, because I am here to hear how Namibians are overcoming their social challenges, and how people in Alexandria in Johannesburg are some of the most disadvantaged people in a modern democracy, but they seem to be overcoming some of these challenges” she remarked.
According to Siyanda, it is important that Namibians and Batswana say what it is that they have done to be able to tackle their social and economic challenges, so that information can be contextualised and used to move these countries forward, as well as the region.
Siyanda will be giving a report on what she has learned through her travels listening to young people at a Unicef Conference later this month. In the past she has been asked to give recommendations on what it is that programmes concerning young people can do to deal with their problems better.
“One of the big things that I noticed is that we need more peer to peer audiences when we are dealing with youth issues. Unicef Swaziland had a youth conference where ten-year-olds spoke to the ministers of education, the royal family and other prominent figures. This is one of the first ways in which we solve some of the youth issues,” Siyanda remarked.
Siyanda will be going back to Botswana, and then heading off to Washington DC with a World Bank programme for one of her own working projects.
In closing Siyanda told The Zone that her message to global leaders is you cannot do anything for young people if you do not listen to young people.
“We need young people to represent themselves in matters that matter to them and this voice cannot be ignored if we are serious about the future of Africa”.
Keith Vries

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