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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Reader Blog

On our Reader Blog, we invite Thought Leader readers to submit one-off contributions to share their opinions on politics, news, sport, business, technology, the arts or any other field of interest. If...

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