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One Young World summit a ‘blast’

By Sungani Phiri

The world’s biggest youth summit kicked off in Johannesburg on Wednesday October 2. Former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan opened the One Young World Summit with an inspiring speech which focused on change, education and leadership.

This year’s panel included some great minds in business, media, leadership and entertainment. Among those present at the opening ceremony was Sir Richard Branson, founder and chief executive of Virgin, Muhammad Yunus, economist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient and legendary musician Bob Geldof.

The magnitude of being in the presence of such individuals was but a dream I dreamt of as a little girl and to actually witness such in my lifetime is something I will cherish for years to come.

But a part of my experience was tainted. Not because the speakers were far from where I was sitting, in fact I had an amazing view of the chief executive of the Mail & Guardian, Trevor Ncube, former child soldier and now musician Emmanuel Jal and fellow journalist Arianna Huffington.

As part of the audience I was left sitting in my chair cringing at the sound of vuvuzelas being blown by youngsters, from invited schools in Soweto. I couldn’t understand why these youths didn’t show the right decorum in the presence of such esteemed individuals.

During his speech Annan had to break away from his delivery to ask these youngsters to “please keep quiet”. I can’t begin to describe the embarrassment I felt.

As much as I would love to place all the blame on the “future young leaders”, as Yunus described them, I have to acknowledge the role played by the organisers in allowing these teenagers to act in such a manner.

Firstly, whoever thought it a good idea to hand out vuvuzelas should be fired, effective immediately. I’d equate it to a mother letting her four-year-old run loose in a candy store.

Secondly I saw educators at the buses as the school children were being dropped off at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, yet when their students were running amok none of them were in sight. No adult figure was there to say “no you can’t blow the vuvuzela while Kofi Annan tells you the important role you have in shaping your life and the country you live in”.

It’s no wonder children feel it is OK to attack teachers with brooms in schools. It could be, because teachers do not discipline their students. Please note, I am by no means saying that we should bring back corporal punishment, no, but I am saying that teachers should have more control over their students.

Or maybe parents are just too busy trying to provide for their children that they let slip on instilling values and just letting their children know that they need to show some restraint at such occasions.

Maybe a part of me was embarrassed because all I saw was young girls in altered school skirts and dresses, 20 fingers from the knee, wearing red lipstick gyrating to kwaito music in front of the foreign media and these are the images people may have of South Africa’s future young leaders.

Some may say that these youth were just excited, and I guess I would be too if I were in their position. If I was given an opportunity to meet with other young people who are taking charge of their lives and making a difference in their corner of the world I too would want to jump up and down with joy.

I commend the organisers for extending an invitation to schools in Soweto, to allowing children and university students to be part of this great event, however although this may, at face value seem like a wonderful opportunity, I fail to see how these children benefited from this event. Not when they showed such little regard for the speakers addressing them.

But what saddened me the most was they were not mindful to who was watching, and how they were representing us as South Africans.

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    • GrahamJ

      TIA. Need I say more?

    • Kalahari Doringboom

      I couldn’t have said it better. In fact, I was wondering what to say and then simply let it drop. Couldn’t believe the disrespect, noise — and rudeness. And where were the organisers to appeal for silence? Wasn’t it enough for Kofi Annan to struggle to hear himself speak? I was not impressed by the line-up of speakers, but would’ve listened to what they had to say, if only to confirm my disagreement with the views of those on the platform.

      Thank you for speaking out.

    • maggielou

      Thanks Sungani. This is the way they’re allowed to behave in school so we cannot blame them. As a PUPIL in the old evil apartheid days, our teacher would have sat with us to help us understand what is going on. We would have been briefed and known what to expect. We would have been dressed strictly to school uniform rules. We would have thought twice before we uttered a word, lest we be admonished and punished. Maybe that is the reason why I am a disciplined, respectful adult.

      This conference was arranged at HUGE expense (naturally four times more than what was necessary) so it was just a joy ride for them. Do you think that it was ‘sabotaged’ by a ‘certain’ political party to keep them uninformed? Vuvuzelas at such an event ….. well, it blows my mind. Are they so desperate to try and create an ‘identity and culture’?

    • Monde Nkosi

      Thank you for writing this Sungani.

      I agree with you that the noise was unacceptable and very embarassing. I disagree, though, with placing the blame on the organisers giving them vuvuzelas and teachers who didn’t seem to be there.

      I think the problem is considerably bigger. The students were loud because (as you saw) they were walking around and socialising when Kofi Annan etc. were speaking. This indicates that they didn’t want to listen to these great people, either because they had never heard of them or because they didn’t know what they’d done. Now the fault for that lies on all of us as a society (you and I included): our government for not having stocked libraries in schools, the media for not celebrating good role models on television channels watched by the youth, our teachers for not creating students who have at least a basic grasp of global current affairs etc.

      My humble view is that the best way to go about this article would’ve been to say “what can I do to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again”? Will you donate books to schools? Will you volunteer to speak in assembly at a school on the global role models who were here and what lessons they had for the youth? Will you rally our government in some aspect of the education problem? Will you join InkuluFreeHeid and take politics as well as social activism to the youth?

      I trust that you won’t be offended by my response. I agree with you on some things and disagree on others…

    • James

      The vuvuzela’s were a gift from one of the sponsor’s, we were facilitating the 5000 children’s attendance and programme. We weren’t aware of the vuvu’s until they were handed out with the meal pack’s (we would have pointed out the downside if we knew) but it is going too far to say the children didn’t get anything out of the experience.

      The children recreated the World Cup atmosphere brilliantly…would you rather have had an empty stadium?

      One school group’s teachers had them stand up to leave during Mr. Anan’s speach ( which was the biggest disruption) and for the rest it was a small percentage of noise, unfortunately amplified by the vuvuzelas. I agree that is was disrespectful and I was embarrassed too. Volunteers worked incredibly hard to get the children there and home safely, and to contain the disruptive ones.

      I think the organisers should be commended for opening the event to thousands of local school children. I was in the stands with the rowdiest of the children (taking vuvuzelas away from the trouble makers) and the majority of the children were listening and engaged. For them it was an experience they will never forget and it was amazing to see how people like Muhammad Yunus captured their imagination.

      After the ceremony I was fortunate enough to have dinner with the councillors and none of them, Mr. Anan and Yunus included, would have had it any other way. It was a special event and the City attempted to make it inclusive. That is the…

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