For those of you who've been feeling morose about my generation's ability to handle ourselves in an ever-mutating social and political climate, you should really know about a young South African man named Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh.
It's hard not to feel optimistic when you talk to Sizwe. At 22, he's already founded a youth leadership training company, formed a hip-hop group that was nominated for an All African Music Award, and served as tournament director of the African Schools' debating Championships. That's right, he can out rap you and out debate you--probably at the same time.
Next month, Sizwe will be an ambassador to the One Young World summit, where he'll join young leaders from around the world in tackling issues that matter most to them and their peers. Recently, I had the chance to chat with Sizwe about his experience as a post-apartheid activist and young social entrepreneur.
Kathleen Hale (KH): You're in your final year at the University of Cape Town, where you've studied philosophy, among other things. What's your philosophical and logistical approach to instituting change in South Africa?
Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh (SMW): South Africa faces the challenge of creating a society of opportUNITY. The first is in lifting one quarter of our population out of poverty by creating economic opportunity. The second is in creating a society of meaningful unity, one where we move beyond the deep racial divides that still permeate our society today.
Basically, I believe a social movement that unites broad sectors of our society under a common economic vision could act as an effective lobby group to the government, as well as give South Africans a new sense of hope about the future. Logistically speaking, such a movement would be youth-driven and begin as a web platform with mobile technological capabilities.
KH: What has your experience been growing up in South Africa?
SMW: I come from a mixed race background: my mother is white and my father is black. Growing up in post-apartheid South Africa, this gave me a unique insight into our society. Yes, apartheid is over, but racism is still a major factor of every day life and must be tackled promptly and in a meaningful way.
KH: Aside from your racial background, what else do you think has shaped you as an agent for change?
SMW: For one thing, I have family in all parts of the world, which has allowed me to travel widely from a young age and to interpret my South African experience in a global context. One of the most pressing issues in our country are its extreme socio-economic discrepancies; in that sense, living for a year in the rural areas of South Africa's eastern cape province gave me an insight into the poverty that many South Africans face.
KH: Could you tell me a little bit about your hip-hop career?
SMW: Well, I got into it at school, and the group I was part of called Entity became the youngest rap group in Africa, and we were nominated for a great award. But when I got accepted at the University of Cape Town, the group split up. Though, I did recently record a song with an artist in the US.
KH: Your lyrics seem to relate to OYW's mission of giving young people more of a voice, and a platform for enacting change:
They say, "Youth, they waste it on the young"/ But hands up if you're someone that they didn't waste it on / I know we've been living like we're gonna live forever / But time is just a window that we're climbing through together
SMB: The lyrics have always been conscious of the issues I believe in. Actions speak louder than words, but I think it's important to communicate the power of youth through any medium.
KH: Lyrics and true activism rarely go hand in hand -- and despite the dissolution of Entity, it seems like you remain motivated to promote activism in unconventional ways. I know that at the last (and first) One Young World summit, Bob Geldof called for delegates to accept that one must be unreasonable in order to affect change ... do you consider yourself to be unreasonable?
SMB: I am unreasonable inasmuch that I am not prepared to accept that orthodox solutions will solve unorthodox problems.
KH: Are people skeptical of your abilities or strategies despite your accomplishments?
SMW: Older generations often ask me, "What does getting people together round a table to talk achieve?"
KH: That's funny...You'd think they of all people would know that you kind of have to use language and coordinate before you can go off on a rampage for change. What would you say to people who are skeptical because of your age?
SMW: I would ask them to look at Einstein's paper on special relativity, to read Schopenhauer's "The World as Will and Representation" or Hume's "Treatise on Human Nature." I would ask them to reflect on the Arab spring and whether they have a Facebook page and then ask what all these things have in common: they are the products of young people that have changed the world.