Kekeletso Khitsane is the Youth Engagement Officer at Restless Development in South Africa and led the country’s Big Conversation process. In this post, she reflects on the communities she works with attitudes to National Government and how Restless Development South Africa will be adapting its strategy to support their needs.
Running the Big Conversation with my team was an eye opening experience. I had the opportunity to discuss development with a number of people in the Eastern Cape and learn how they felt about the issues they face in their communities. It left me wondering how the issues they are facing at the local level are really the issues that the whole country is facing.
As part of the Big Conversation we printed out 500 forms, divided them amongst the team and distributed them in the different districts we work in: Amahlathi local municipality, OR Tambo, Alfred Nzo and Amathole. At the same time we were running foundation trainings with our volunteers, so we took the opportunity to have a session on the Big Conversation with them and gave them the surveys to fill in.
Our volunteers also played a role in engaging communities and other young people to have a say in the Big Conversation and collecting the data. At the end of this process, all the completed forms were sent to me for collation and analysis.
Most of the responses to the first question “How must the world change to make this happen?” involved how people felt about our government and what services they believe it should provide them with; from creating jobs, to education, housing, health services and so on. This shows how much people in these communities rely on the government to provide services. When we got to the second question: “What will you do to make this happen?” it was difficult for them to identify what role they could play in ensuring that the government does deliver those services.
When we posed the last question: “What would you most like to see achieved by 2030?”; it was amazing to see such a low percentage of the people indicating that they would like to see a more supportive government, while recognising many faults in the government in the first question. I feel that people have reached a point where they are so removed from participating in the making of decisions that affect their lives and accustomed to the government not taking what they have to say into consideration, that they have stopped trying. In the words of one of the respondents: “I can’t say much because we always say our thoughts but all those thoughts our government takes them and shoves to the dustbin.”
There is so much disillusion clouding our people’s minds that they don’t seem to see the important role they can play in combating the challenges we are facing as a nation. That is why the Big Conversation was very important in the context of South Africa: not only did it help us understand better where young people would like to see change, but people participating will see their opinions and needs included and addressed by our new strategy and programmes – knowing that their voices count.
My team and I feel that the Big Conversation reflects what we also see as the main challenges that South Africa is facing at the moment: education, job creation and health services as well as lack of spaces for citizen’s meaningful participation.
I am happy that our strategy will focus all around these themes and going forward I hope to see the Government in South Africa opening spaces for meaningful participation and consultation both at the national and local levels and political leaders taking into consideration what the people they represent have to say.