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South Africa

Speak Africa initiative brings together youth activists to fight for the rights of African youth

© UNICEF/2008/Hubbard
Stella Adiambo Agara, a youth activist, was part of the recent Speak Africa workshops in Johannesburg, South Africa.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 12 December 2008 – On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Speak Africa youth activists from 13 African countries joined the African Union in the call for urgent action to protect the rights of young people.

The youth activists are meeting in Johannesburg, under the umbrella of the Speak Africa communication initiative, to review achievements made on the youth agenda during 2008, which the African Union had declared as the Year of African Youth.
The African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, Advocate Bience Gawanas, addressed the activists.

“It is critical that as young people you constantly engage with the African Union. I know that we have got the Youth Charter, we have got the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, we have many policy instruments . . . . The challenge is how do we translate those letters on paper into the reality of our lives everyday,” she said.

'Youth are being neglected'

Despite representing more than half of Africa’s population, young people have few opportunities for employment, and have little hope of fulfilling their dreams and aspirations.

© UNICEF video
The activists also visited Johannesburg’s Constitutional Hill, which until the mid-1980s housed one of South Africa’s most notorious prisons.

“We feel that the youth are being neglected,” said Amanda Mpoyi, a youth activist from the Democratic Republic of Congo who now lives in South Africa. “However when there is a war, they become useful – when they are needed to carry guns, when women are needed by soldiers to rape.”

Putting education into action

Speak Africa provides the activists training on advocacy skills and on the utilization of media and technology to express themselves. The goal is to empower young people so that they can make their voices heard, and make a difference.
To mark the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, the youth activists were able to put their training into action. Through a series of interviews with South Africa’s national broadcaster and a press conference featuring UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and singer Yvone Chaka Chaka and UNICEF Advocate for Youth and South African television and radio personality Kabelo ‘KB’ Ngakane, they were able to raise awareness about the issues confronting young Africans.

In the footsteps of heroes

The activists also visited Johannesburg’s Constitutional Hill, which until the mid-1980s housed one of South Africa’s most notorious prisons. The prison complex is now a museum that houses South Africa’s Constitutional Court, where human rights are enshrined.

After walking in the footsteps of their human rights heroes, and witnessing the cells that once housed them, these young activists emerged more determined than ever to make their voices heard.

“I am a firm believer in children and young people as actors for change,” said Stella Agara of the Kenyan Africa Youth Trust. “They have the ability to pick out the lessons that they have gotten from these cells and the struggles that these people went through, and translate them into better actions to achieve better results.”




10 December 2008:  UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on the Speak Africa youth activists who called on the African Union to protect the rights of young people.
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