#UPMandelaMonth: ‘The best help we can offer is to enable people to help themselves’

Posted on July 26, 2021

“When I think of the impact that former president Nelson Mandela has had on my life, I would say he has influenced how I think,” says Rebaona Letsholo, who describes herself as a scholar by profession. “He was a great, motivational leader. Through the enormous role he played in the emancipation of South Africans, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity, he helped to change my perspective, as someone who came from an apartheid generation. He helped me to see that being able to conscientise people is a powerful thing, as they are then able to think about things in a different light.”

Letsholo obtained a BComm (Hons) in Tourism Management at the University of Pretoria (UP), before doing her master’s and then a PhD in Strategic Management. The UP lecturer says she is passionate about the human side of strategy: understanding how people make sense of things and how that drives their decisions. In terms of work that impacts her community, she is part of a group of academics conducting a study on youth unemployment in South Africa, an area of critical concern for the country. Known as SUCSESS (Strengthening university-enterprise cooperation in South Africa to support regional development by enhancing lifeling learning skills, social innovations and inclusivity), the EU-funded project brings together UP, the Universities of Johannesburg and Kwazulu-Natal; Sheffield Hallam University in the UK and the University of Oulu and Haaga-Helia in Finland.

Letsholo is working with Professor Berendien Lubbe of UP’s Department of Historical and Heritage Studies, who led the research phase of the project, as well as Dr Wesley Rosslyn-Smith, Senior Lecturer, Business Management. Now in the second leg of the study, Letsholo says they are trying to find out the reasons behind youth unemployment, and are discerning strategies for cooperation.

“We’re looking at universities, students and industry and how they work together, and whether there is space for improved collaboration that might enable better employment,” she explains. “We’re also looking at the various skills and competencies that are needed to make students employable, and how students and universities view employment versus what employers actually want. We’d like to make educational institutions aware of what the key issues are, and create knowledge around these subjects. Our potential influence is empowering youth by showing them which avenues they can use to gain access to more education, funding or employability, and letting them know that there is always space for enablement. This also includes entrepreneurship and how best they can harness the skills they possess.”

Letsholo says that as South Africans and Africans, we have within our value system and psyche the concept of ubuntu, which means that you help people so that they can help themselves. “Volunteering for a cause opens your eyes as well as those of who you are working with; it’s about uplifting each other. Not everyone is as privileged as you might be, nor had the opportunities or knowledge base you’ve acquired, so it’s important to give back; understanding that not everything you do needs to be repaid.”

Letsholo says that there is a misconception that help needs to be monetary in nature, which makes people feel uncomfortable if they are not in a position to contribute. “It’s about looking at our individual capacities and assessing what we’re able to do. The best possible help we can offer is to enable people to help themselves, because that eliminates any expectation of giving or sense of entitlement.”

While the pandemic has made it very difficult to help communities, Letsholo says there are millions of South Africans doing their level-best to make a positive difference, regardless of the resources they have. “I think there’s space for doing a lot more.”




- Author Nicole Cameron

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