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Keynote address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the inaugural Nelson Mandela Youth Dialogue, Walter Sisulu University, Mthatha

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Programme Director, Executive Deputy Chairperson of the National Youth Development Agency, Ms Karabo Mohale,
Premier of the Eastern Cape, Mr Oscar Mabuyane,
Minister of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma,
CEO of the NYDA, Mr Waseem Carrim,
Vice-Chancellor of Walter Sisulu University, Prof Rushiella Songca,
Secretary-General of the Pan-African Youth Union, Mr Ahmed Bening,
Members of the Board of the NYDA,
Representatives of the Nelson Mandela Foundation,
Representatives of the Mandela family,
Esteemed delegates and participants in the inaugural Nelson Mandela Youth Dialogue,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning and a warm South African welcome to you all.
Though we speak many languages and come from different places, we are all the children of one mother, Mother Africa.
We are the roots of a single tree, we are the tributaries of the many rivers that flow to one sea, all a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
As Africans, we are united in our diversity, and our unity is our greatest strength.
And today we are gathered under one roof as one family in honour and memory of one of the foremost fathers of our continent, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
The conceptualisation of this Youth Dialogue was inspired by Nelson Mandela’s cherished dream to see the young people of Africa come together, to unite and to collaborate to solve our many challenges.

It was also inspired by the struggles and the work and lives of the giants of our continent like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Murtala Mohammed of Nigeria, Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Amilcar Cabral of Guinea Bissau, Agostino Neto of Angola, Eduardo Mondlane of Mozambique, Seretse Khama of Botswana, and our own Albert Luthuli and many others. 

The idea of bringing the youth of the continent together to start important conversations about leadership, development and political change first came to me during a visit to the Republic of Senegal in December 2021.
After delivering a lecture at the Cheikh Anta Diop University, the students and I had a wide-ranging discussion on various topics. These included the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of African universities in knowledge production, economic integration, sustainable development, constitutionalism, human rights and fundamental freedoms.
It struck me then, as it always has when I travel in other parts of Africa, just how many opportunities there are for Africa’s youth to collaborate.
There is so much that young people across the continent can learn from each other’s experiences. They can draw on each other’s strengths and capabilities and encourage each other as they take up the mantle of leadership.
What I have always found deeply moving is the great regard in which Nelson Mandela is held across Africa. There are streets named after him, images of him, and lectures and talks about him and in his memory.
It is nearly always the first name that enters the conversation when, as a South African, you travel elsewhere on the continent.
The students at Cheikh Anta Diop University were eager to talk to me about his legacy.
So when the idea of convening a dialogue for African youth first took form, I knew that it had to be aligned with President Mandela and his legacy, his leadership and his pan-African outlook.
It was fortunate that just days after returning from my state visit to Senegal, I met with the newly-appointed board of the National Youth Development Agency and presented my vision for the youth dialogue.
I am grateful for their commitment of the NYDA and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, for South Africa to convene a Nelson Mandela Youth Dialogue and Ethical Leadership Programme.

That day has finally come.
In this room today are young people from North, East, West, Central and Southern Africa, as well as from the diaspora.
You are here as youth leaders from your respective countries who want to be part of the solution to Africa’s many challenges.
You are here because as young people, you demand to be part of decision-making and shaping a future that is yours.
We see the Nelson Mandela Youth Dialogue as a collective that brings together the builders of a new Africa.

As young people, you are the next generation, the innovators, the change-makers and the agents of progress.
It was President Mandela who offered the finest description.
“Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that generation. Let your greatness blossom”

He called young people “the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation”.
He said: “They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth, and those who care for and protect our people.”
He saw young people as the builders of a better Africa and a better world.
We are therefore delighted that we can take a critical step towards fulfilling his vision with the launch of the inaugural Nelson Mandela Youth Dialogue.

As we gather here, we dare declare that our identity is unambiguously African.
We dare say that our being is one with Africa, that we are loyal disciples and advocates for Africa’s development.
We must insist that we are unmistakably products of Africa’s long and complex rich history.
We maintain too that we are ultimately the authors of Africa’s inevitable great future.
We are Africans  as Kwame Nkrumah told us – not because we were born in Africa, but because Africa was born in us.
To realise Africa’s ability to give birth to a world with a more human face, we carry the responsibility to confront the colonial limitations that were imposed upon us.
Through brute force, through the plunder of resources, through the enslavement of minds and bodies, Africans were stripped of their humanity and dignity.
For the cruelly brutal, exploitative and absurd colonial project to prosper, we were reduced to and regarded as unimaginative, primitive savages who were regarded as merely content with subsistence living.
Our way of life, our history, our culture, our belief systems, our customs, our traditions and our economic life were denigrated, frowned upon, ridiculed and destroyed.
Long after the overthrow of colonial rule, imperialism and racial prejudice prevented our historical wounds from properly healing and for us to freely march forward to progress.
It was Frantz Fanon who said:
“Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.”
Imperialism flourished because it made the oppressed believe some of the worst lies about themselves.
To be black and African carried a burdensome weight, irrespective of one’s standing in African society.
This dialogue should be about affirming our individual and collective self-worth as a people and our determination to develop our continent through innovative entrepreurnership. It should also be about giving space and opportunity to the entrepreunarial spirit, talents and energy of Africa's youth to take their rightful place in the regeneration of the economic fortunes of the continent.

It should be about raising our consciousness to the endless possibility that the idea and experience of being African carries.

It should be about us taking advantage of the vast, golden opportunities available in the programme of rebuilding Africa.
A more humane and just world cannot blossom without an African renaissance, without embracing African values and without a proper appreciation of African aspirations.
The foundations are already being laid.
We see examples of the dynamism and vision of youth throughout the continent.
With the support of the African Development Bank, for example, young urban farmers in Nigeria, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are running businesses focused on climate-smart agriculture and using new technologies for sustainable food production.
Similar projects to support food security by bringing young people into agriculture are underway in Zambia through the Yapasa programme, in South Africa through the Presidential Employment Stimulus and in other countries.
In Kenya’s capital Nairobi, young men are leading the ground-breaking ‘No Means No’ project to educate men and boys about sexual consent. According to data from the project, sexual violence has dramatically reduced in the settlements where their classes are taking place.
Across Africa, young people are becoming entrepreneurs in waste recycling, mobile money, aquaculture, IT and e-learning.
Many of these businesses are in direct response to community needs and circumstances.
In Nigeria for example, a young entrepreneur has started a ride-hailing and delivery service for motorcycle taxis, also known as okadas or piki-pikis.
Young African climate activists like Vanessa Nakate from Uganda have been raising awareness and speaking for climate justice for many years, far away from the news cameras.
In the troubled Eastern DRC, which is bearing the brunt of violence and conflict, young people in Ituri province are coming together and meeting with government leaders and civil society groups around peace issues and the role they can play in peacebuilding.
When it comes to agitating for political change and human rights, it has been Africa’s youth that has been giving a voice to the disaffected and marginalised through music, popular culture, art, cinema and protest.
All of these examples make a strong case that the solutions to Africa’s problems are well within our grasp. Many of them are already being implemented in Africa, for Africa and by young Africans.
The Nelson Mandela Dialogue is an engagement between young Africans on the most critical and pressing issues of our time such as youth unemployment, African trade and economic integration, entrepreneurship, sustainable development, climate change and good governance.
The Dialogue is just the start.
We want to start a conversation about ethical leadership, drawing on the Mandela legacy. And in doing so, we want to light a spark in young people from across our continent who aspire to lead.
Africa does not need leaders who just want to lead.
It needs leaders who are ethical and principled.
It needs leaders of courage; leaders with an unwavering commitment to advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms for all regardless of race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political orientation, or whether one is born rich or poor.
Africa's diversity must be a source of strength, not a cause for division. True leaders stand up for truth and justice. They stand up against inhumanity in all its forms and always strive for peace as a precondition for progress.
We need leaders who understand that to lead the people, you must first be amongst the people and respond to their most immediate and pressing needs.
We recall the example of the great Thomas Sankara, who after leading a revolution in his country set about mobilising the people of Burkina Faso, especially young people, to build schools, clinics, dams and irrigation systems.
In the early days of the Cuban revolution, which greatly inspired post-independence movements in Africa, young people were sent into the towns and villages to teach people to read, an act that transformed the country.
We need leaders infused with love for their country and continent, who do not tailor their patriotism to whether they are speaking to audiences at home or abroad. We cannot raise Africa high in the world if our own leaders take nothing but stories of gloom to foreign capitals.
I recall President Mandela’s words, which are narrated in the book ‘Conversations with Myself’, where he says:
“Even the younger generation of today still values the experience of elders. Young men [and women] who are grappling every day with fresh practical human problems like to test the knowledge acquired from the classroom and books against the experience of their mature seniors who have been in the field.”
President Mandela was often asked what influenced his world-view.
He spoke about his own upbringing, his interactions as a young man with leaders in his community, meeting other political and world leaders, and the ordinary men, women and children throughout the world he had met in the course of his life.
Nelson Mandela was a great leader who embodied all the qualities I have just described.
We see the Nelson Mandela Youth Dialogue as an incubator of the next generation of Africa’s leaders.
That is why I am proud to announce the establishment of a fellowship programme for extraordinary young African leaders.

This fellowship will enable young people to pursue a year-long fellowship in South Africa and be trained on a curriculum of leadership, governance, economics and development. We plan to have our first intake in the 2024 academic year.
Africa is a continent on the ascent.
Democracy is being consolidated and deepened, despite a few isolated examples of regression.
Several African economies are growing and thriving, and this will only improve once the African Continental Free Trade Area becomes fully operational.
With its vast natural resources, Africa is poised to take advantage of the global shift towards low-carbon, climate resilient development.
Across Africa there is bountiful wind and solar power, geothermal energy and biofuels. Africa's natural gifts can secure our own energy future and export clean energy abroad.
As the continent, we must be committed to an energy transition that is just and inclusive.
Africa’s human capital is its greatest asset.
Our people, especially young people, are creating their own opportunities as entrepreneurs, by working the land, and by applying innovative solutions to age-old problems.
This is not to make light of the many challenges we still face of poverty, unemployment, inequality, conflict, disease, gender-based violence and the gaping wound of inequality between and within nations in Africa.
Yet we look to the future with optimism. It is up to young people brimming with talent, energy and hope to fulfil the promise of the generations that came before.
Development depends on good governance and strong leadership. This is what will unlock Africa's potential.
History bears witness to the value of investing in the development of leaders. The Nelson Mandela Youth Dialogue and fellowship seeks to be part of this endeavour.
Africa's future is in your hands.
It is a great responsibility and duty. But also a difficult one.
You will encounter many setbacks. At times, you may doubt yourself and your course of action.
It will take time and it will take immense effort.
But you will not give in or give up. You will be fortified by experience, by learning from each other, and by being able to rely on each other. That is the purpose of this initiative.
Change will come from the decisions that you make, the actions you undertake and from the values by which you choose to live.
We have won political freedom in Africa. It is your responsibility to pursue economic freedom and prosperity, unity and integration.
In 1961, at the height of apartheid, Nelson Mandela released a statement from the underground explaining his decision to not leave South Africa, but to continue with his political work.
He asked his countrymen and women:
“What are you going to do? Will you come along with us, or are you going to remain silent and neutral in a matter of life and death to my people, to your people?
“For my own part, I have made my choice. Only through hardship, sacrifice and militant action can freedom be won. The struggle is my life.”
As Africa’s next leaders you will bring us the peace and collective prosperity we seek as a continent.
Let it be that this cause, this struggle, too becomes your life, your preoccupation and your foremost goal. Become the next generation of principled, ethical servant leaders that usher in a new era of African progress.
Be assured that in doing so you have the full support of the Nelson Mandela Youth Dialogue and Fellowship.

This dialogue is essentially about the role of enterprise in bringing a better life to all our people.
To succeed, we must affirm Africa as a birthplace of all humanity and cradle for civilisation, archaeology, history and science, which confirms Africa as a preeminent centre of innovation, scholarship and commerce.
John Reader in his book Africa: A Biography of the Continent affirms Africa's pivotal role in creativity, innovation and civilisation when he attests that “About a hundred thousand years ago, groups of modern humans left Africa for the first time and progressively colonised the rest of the world. The innovative talent they had developed in Africa carried them into every exploitable niche of the world. They moved across the Sinai peninsula and were living in the eastern Mediterranean region by 90,000 years ago. They had reached Asia and Australia by 40,000 years ago and Europe by 30,000 years ago. They had crossed the Bering Straits by 15,000 years ago and had reached the southern tip of South America by 12,000 years ago the last remaining large habitable land mass, New Zealand was colonised 700 years ago. By the early 1990s people had been to the moon. Such achievements, all by virtue of talent which had evolved in Africa.”
Given this account one can say that if modern civilisation and the technological development that we see around us today are judged to be the epitome of human achievement, then it is unlikely that the material way of life which most of humanity currently aspires would have happened without the innovative talent that originated on the African continent.
In order to drive the development of the continent to free ourselves from economic injustice and social marginalisation, Africa's youth must know that innovative talent originated in Africa and that they share an affinity with the civilisations of Egypt, Timbuktu, Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe.
In our quest to root out the scourge of poverty, unemployment and inequality, in our pursuit for an equitable economic renaissance, we must simultaneously plant the seeds of Africa’s regeneration .
We must purposefully celebrate black excellence and innovation to demonstrate that over millennia, we possessed and refashioned a culture full of energy, strength and vigour.
I wish you well and look forward to today’s dialogue.
I thank you.