This article first appeared in the Pretoria News on 7 September 2017.
‘CAUTION: DANGER’ This is the misleading sign that youth activists are associated with in South Africa. It is even more particular to the corporate space where activists are feared and painted with brushes of irrationality, and anger.
As a young activist who entered a corporate auditing and consulting based environment as a first job, I can assure you that corporates place themselves in an unfavourable position by rejecting characters like myself. Unfavourable because it is difficult to transform and lead the society of tomorrow with leaders of yesterday.
The dynamism and complexity of living in South Africa and attending our tertiary institutions means that our youth are thought leaders who will not be silent when injustice runs rampant. This commitment to equality and justice that the youth have displayed during various student movements from #FeesMustFall to #EndRapeCulture shows us that the youth of South Africa are change-makers who will not tiptoe around issues. As South Africans we have mastered the art of “tiptoeing” and this has been at the expense of our growth as a country in multiple facets – politically, racially, and in terms of gender.
We know that affirmative action programmes have not been effective – but not because they have “reversed a system of oppression”. They have been ineffective because somehow the private sector still manages to produce upper management statistics that are 79% male and 72% white as per the Stats SA 2016/2017 Commission for Employment Equity Report. The result being that black women like myself, who constitute one of the most marginalized groups in society, are not served by the very programmes which are supposedly designed to give us an advantage. When I was interviewed to work at Deloitte, I feared that I would be rejected for my activism and my leadership like other firms had. One firm said to me “You’re too busy to be effective here. If you drop all you’re doing and just work, we’ll take you”.
The sentiments shared by this firm was disappointing considering the fact that I run an organisation that empowers young Africans to change the narrative.My now previous boss said he’d heard about my leadership, and was really interested to know why I was so involved in student movements. We had an open conversation about the importance of youth activism and challenging complacency, and he said “I’m excited for you to be part of the team. “There’s a lot of value you can bring, and you can help us transform”. And that has indeed been the case. The firm has encouraged my views and opinions. Moreover, through the need to make tangible change and highlight key societal issues. My colleague and I ran a pad drive which raised awareness about inaccessible and unaffordable pads in South Africa. Deloitte supported and encouraged the motivational talks I gave in schools to empower the youth.
Furthermore, my successes which were usually out of the norm in corporate were highlighted firm-wide each time. My experience in a corporate space contrasts drastically to the experience of my peers.Young people bring energy, innovation and new hope for South Africa into the workplace. We constantly grapple with questions like ‘How do I shape the South Africa I want’, and what should I ‘unlearn and learn’. Our lived experiences have shaped us, and our uniquely South African challenges position us in the optimal position with which to bring about change.
We changed entire institutions for the better, for the sake of SA’s inclusivity, now imagine what we can do in the workplace if given the chance and skills transfer.Africa has the youngest population in the world, and young Africans like Lovelyn Nwadeyi, Kgotsi Chikane, Fasiha Hassan and myself have shown you that we are capable of leading in all spaces. We have shown the world the value of young voices for transformation and tangible change, now welcome us into the corporate space so that we can lead the South Africa of tomorrow today.
Farai is a Deloitte Analyst for Strategy and Operations Consulting nd founder of the youth-led organisation, Africa Matters.