Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Fatima Chohan believes one need only look at the country’s young people to appreciate that South Africa has “very good stories to tell”.
Ms Chohan was the keynote speaker at a careers expo for high school pupils in Woodstock on Saturday June 11.
A packed audience greeted the deputy minister, whose speech described both the challenges facing the youth in the current economic climate and the opportunities available to them.
“When I go on overseas trips, I tell people to come to South Africa to see the real young people, to not look at the media and how the youth are portrayed,” Ms Chohan said.
“I ask myself, ‘Why do South Africans not know the good stories?’ The impression is that we are a bunch of no-good morons, but I have seen the most talented people in our country. We have talented young people, but there always seem to be barriers upon barriers.”
She said education was not just about what people learnt in textbooks.
“You also need to educate children about values. If you do not have educated people who have values you will have a failed society.”
She acknowledged that the country was at a crossroads, which was a concern.
“Our challenge of our time is that young people need to take the opportunities presented to them. Madiba spoke about a very long walk to freedom, and he has now passed the baton onto us.”
She said the government had consistently put most of its budget towards education, because education was the “great equaliser”.
She warned that the onus was on all South Africans to stand up as a society to “get our values right”.
Referring to the recent torching of schools and trains, the deputy minister said the notion that people could damage what they had was one that had to be immediately eradicated.
“Are we going to stand up for justice? Are we going to get hoodwinked by a few people or are we going to protect our democracy? We can be the moral light of the world if we want to be.”
The audience also heard from representatives of the South African Police Service, South African Navy and the Department of Correctional Services.
Sergeant Hilton Malila, of Woodstock police station, told pupils they had several choices if they wanted to join the force.
“All you need is a matric, preferably a driver’s licence and not to have a criminal record.
“Your training takes two years before you become a permanent employee of the SAPS,” he said.
“There is so much you can do with us. If animals are your interest, you can join the dog unit. If you like to be in the sky, you can apply to work with the helicopter unit. Then there is forensics, communications or the investigations unit. The SAPS is an incredibly vibrant organisation,” he said.
Car thief-turned-pastor Vuyo Nyabaza warned pupils about the dangers of making a career out of crime.
He described how, at the age of 13, he had been influenced by the “big men” of Gugulethu and started to steal cars so that he, too, could own fancy cars and branded clothing.
“I had everything a young man could desire, and everyone came to fear me. Then I started to take drugs and smoke crack. I saw no reason to further my education,” he said.
“After a few years of stealing cars, I had moved up to cash-in-transit heists. But it all changed for me one day. It was our last heist of the year, but on this occasion the police chased us. My group had parted ways, and I was alone. I knew I was going to prison, and I decided I would kill myself. I had the gun to my head, but then I thought of what my parents would say. I decided not to do it.”
He escaped from Pollsmoor prison while awaiting trial, but that proved to be his last chance.
After being rearrested, he was sent back to Pollsmoor for a lengthy sentence.
“There was now no hope. My mother was the talk of the town because of my life. I had ruined everything.
“Then, five years into my sentence, I surrendered my life to Jesus. Although I toyed with the idea of doing heists again after my release, I was not going back.”
Mr Nyabaza said if the pupils could take one lesson from his testimony, it was that there were “no shortcuts in life”.
“We are a microwave generation, we want everything instantly. But the truth is that if you want things to last in your life, you have to work for them.
“Your destiny is also not limited to where you come from.
“You can be anything you want to be if you work hard.”