Youth Month: How UP’s FES Democracy School for Young Leaders is empowering students to become change agents

Posted on June 11, 2021

The Department of Student Affairs is celebrating four years of running the Democracy School, which was designed to empower young leaders to continue carrying out the vision of the youth of 1976 in fighting and overcoming inequality in South Africa.

University of Pretoria (UP) Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe has in recent statements emphasised that the future success of the world hinges on the future of Africa, given its large and extremely youthful population. He has also said that Africa’s success depends on its ability to nurture strong, wise leaders who are able to realise their full potential and enact sustainable positive change in their communities.

It is against this vision that the Department of Student Affairs (DSA) at UP celebrates its fourth year in running the UP FES Democracy School for Young Leaders, a programme made possible through a partnership with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES). FES is an independent nonprofit organisation in Germany and is the oldest political foundation in the country; it has headquarters in Berlin and Bonn. The foundation shares a long history with South Africa and has supported dialogue, consultation and capacity building to assist with transformation before and after 1994.

Attracting more than 100 student leaders each year, the programme is aimed at engaging them on issues of human rights, social justice, civic participation and responsibility through various critical lenses.

“The evaluations that student leaders completed show that they appreciated the quality of content they received, the manner in which various presenters engaged them as an audience, and the quality of discussions and conversations that took place,” said Dr Matete Madiba, Director: Student Affairs at UP. “Student leaders receive certificates of attendance for their participation in the programme; this is part of building their leadership profiles as well as their CVs.”

The FES Democracy School for Young Leaders is designed to empower young leaders to be change agents and to continue carrying out the vision of the youth of 1976 in fighting and overcoming the inequality that persists in society and which continues to undermine the democracy project as it unfolds in South Africa.

The programme is open to all UP students who are in leadership positions or those who aspire to occupy such positions. Students who are looking to run for positions in the Student Representative Council (SRC) are encouraged to participate in the programme because that’s where support starts, and training and development continues when they are in office.

“If this level of support and development is not provided, young leaders would not be afforded the opportunity to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to be activists that can bring much needed change,” said Dr Madiba. “Young leaders at university should always take advantage of all learning sites and resources available to them for their own development and growth; they should seize opportunities to learn in and out of the classroom.”

The DSA is responsible for providing leadership and personal development and training opportunities to students who participate in various student structures at UP. As part of the co-curricular vision, the department draws in partnerships internally and externally, organising the offerings in order to serve students well on their journeys to personal growth and graduating as critically engaged citizens. It is desirable to expose UP student leaders to national and international training and development opportunities so that they can emerge as well-rounded graduates with relevant attributes.

“It is UP’s mission to pursue excellence in its core functions of research, teaching and learning, and to deliver quality graduates with a sound academic base and leaders who will be responsible citizens and contribute positively towards building an equitable society, with a deep appreciation of human rights and social justice,” Prof Kupe said.


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