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Civil society needs to be included in rebuilding SA

A year on after the Covid-19 pandemic reached South African shores, we have yet to see the full impact of lockdown on South Africans, especially on young people whose lives were largely paused. The economic and mental health challenges have been devastating and we need to be prepared to meet them in the years to come.
Siphelele Chirwa, CEO, Activate! Change Drivers
Siphelele Chirwa, CEO, Activate! Change Drivers

Activate Change Drivers, with a network of 4,500 young South Africans, needed to transform rapidly under lockdown. We had to provide Covid relief to the young people in our network - from meeting their immediate needs, such as electricity for their families, to providing them with PPE as many of our activators were on the frontline, helping their communities, or working from our youth hubs.

Much of our strategy and deliverables last year had to shift and change. That is the beauty of being an organisation that responds to its network’s needs. But there is no denying that the impact of lockdown was brutal to us as an organisation and to our base. We couldn’t meet some of our deliverables and we had to reduce our overheads.

Tackling the overall impact of Covid-19, lockdown


As to the role of civil society in our changed world, we must not allow Covid to stop us from being human and creating change. We are not here just to ‘clean up’ the wrongs in the world. We are here for building hope, rebuilding the country, and tackling the fundamental issues that keep us separated as a country and prevent economic growth.

We are worried about the overall impact of the pandemic and lockdowns, including the mental health impact on young people in South Africa as a whole, and the dire economic impact which has filtered down to every household. We haven’t yet seen the full impact of this pandemic. It will take years of recovery to regain lost ground.

These are huge challenges in the long term. From a youth perspective, particularly, it has had a devastating impact on young people who have just started out and just started earning. We must highlight the resilience of our young people who put themselves and their lives on the line, despite their fear of the unknown - they wanted to understand what Covid is and how they could assist. I applaud them for pulling together.


Poverty remains


We must acknowledge that people pulled together at the time to fight poverty, there was a true spirit of togetherness, but we need people to recognise that poverty is still within our communities and the impact of lockdown will be felt for a very long time. The danger right now is that we are losing our shared history as to what makes us human – connecting – which is on hold under lockdown. We need to preserve our resilience and share our struggles.

This year, as an organisation, Activate Change Drivers is centralising our strategy to speak about our network of young people in whom we have invested for the past 10 years. It will be a year of celebration, making sure our network remains sustainable. The future of South Africa lies within networks of young people and the youth leadership in our communities, and we want to celebrate them. South Africa’s possibility lies within our youth.

Civil society part of decision-making structures


Post-pandemic, we must heal. There is a lot of hope we need to hold onto. The time now is for truth. We have seen so many issues come up strongly this past year: corruption, our state of wellness as a country, poverty, hunger, GBV, mental health issues, joblessness… As a youth network in South Africa, we are part of the solutions.

The world has taken away from civil society - we are seen as the ‘cleaners’ of the issues when issues arise, but civil society should be sitting in those key spaces where decisions are taken. We can’t always be seen as the saviours. We need to start a conversation where we don’t have to get to that place of crisis by including civil society in the decision-making structures. It is a cliché to say that we must all work together, but we must be invited to the table because we are a force that is helping the world to turn.

About Siphelele Chirwa

Siphelele Chirwa, CEO, Activate! Change Drivers

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