Columns 19.8.2016 05:20 am

SA youth need mentors

FILE PICTURE: Rhoda Kadalie, anti-apartheid activist, making a speech in Athlone.

FILE PICTURE: Rhoda Kadalie, anti-apartheid activist, making a speech in Athlone.

The victories of gold and silver medallists Wayde van Niekerk and Luvo Manyonga are the most recent examples of young people being coached to rise above circumstances.

On Saturday I attended an opera at Artscape Theatre to celebrate the comeback of SA’s Pavarotti, Johan Botha, after a long and serious illness.

Sadly, Johan was not in top form but accompanying SA’s black rising stars – soprano Goitsemang Lehobye, mezzo soprano Bongi Nakani, and baritone Mandla Ndebele, who sang a range of arias from Verdi to Donizetti, showing what a master of his craft he is.

He simply brought out the best in the other singers and it demonstrated again how important it is for experts to mentor the youth. Prof Kamal Kahn, Prof Virginia Oosthuizen, Prof Angelo Gobbato, among others, have excelled in training many of township kids to excel in Italian, French and German opera, disproving the notion that opera is Eurocentric.

Pretty Yende, Kimi Skota, Pulane Malefani, Given Nkosi, and many others have made it on world stages, including La Scala in Milan and the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.

The rapid rise of our black opera stars shows how much potential our young people have, despite our failing education system. But skills development, dedicated training and mentorship are key to their success. The most recent Olympic medallists prove how essential it is. Every child, more so poor black kids, needs a Tante Ans Botha in their lives.

The victories of gold and silver medallists Wayde van Niekerk and Luvo Manyonga, respectively, are the most recent examples of young people being coached to rise above their circumstances. Wayde and his relationship with the glorious Tante Ans is a story that SA should celebrate as a partnership across boundaries.

I heard his interview on the radio, when he joyfully exclaimed: “She’s an amazing woman. She has played a huge role in who I am today and kept me very disciplined and very focused on the role and who I need to be.” Jokingly, he said that five minutes early was too late for Tante Ans, who, although a strict disciplinarian, is also known as being “deeply caring”. This is a message that our protesting university students should hear – “when we work hard, we work very hard”.

People such as Ryk Neethling, Sascoc president Gideon Sam, and his coach, Neil Cornelius, noticed Manyonga’s downward struggle, and were determined to save him. They snatched Manyonga from his drug addiction to tik, by removing him from his destructive surroundings, and placed him in a space where they knew he could reach his full potential.

Affirmative Action, quotas, and all those politically correct policies were of no consequence here. It was about sympathetic South Africans who saw potential and helped develop the greatness inherent in this young Olympian.

There are many such stories of young people being saved by the myriad of indefatigable NGOs that focus particularly on the great skills deficit. Our NGOs patiently compensate for the failure of our schools and universities to produce young people who are employable. Government and the private sector should move away from conventional notions that only they can create jobs.

NGOs create hundreds of medical professionals and small entrepreneurs who, collectively, constitute a vast army of workers. NGOs spend an enormous amount of time making young people employable – developing the skills that make them work-ready.

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