In order for young people to come out of the doldrums of poverty and unemployment and have better opportunities in South Africa, young people should be part of decision-making structures of society. This is according to one of the country’s young listed trailblazers, Lwandile Simelane, earmarked by the 2021 Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans making positive inroads programme.
Simelane, a University of Johannesburg (UJ) alumna and former Student Representative Council (SRC) Chairperson, says young people should be included in all aspects of the country’s economic, social and political developments. “There’s a desperate need for alternative and innovative thinking in South Africa and I strongly believe that this capability is sitting with young people,” says Simelane.
The 34-year-old Mpumalanga born Politics and Labour Law graduate says changes in making South Africa better should start with students who “need to force institutions to innovate as much as possible. We need to be an adapting society and institutions of higher learning need to be leading in this process,” she says.
Speaking on the many challenges that the youth face in institutions of higher learning, communities and families, Simelane says that new funding streams need to be incorporated for funding of studies and student activities and that “student apathy needs to be eliminated by finding ways of motivating students to take interest in multifaceted matters in the university.”
A sports fanatic and administrator, Simelane studied BA in Politics and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Labour Law at UJ. She also completed a BA Honours in International Politics at the University of South Africa.
Currently, Simelane runs the administration and corporate governance for an agricultural cooperative. In sport, she is the Vice-President of the South African Hockey Association and the 1st Vice President of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC).
On her inclusion in the 2021 Mail & Guardian 200 Young South African Trailblazers, she says: “I feel unbelievably humble to have made it on this list and I think the work I have done and the positions I’ve held whilst still a young person have been a part of what has stood out for me to be nominated.”
At UJ, Simelane was a student and a Chief Peer Helper at her residence which was then known as Amper Daar (now renamed Magnolia). “I was also Chairperson of the Student General Council (SGC) which was the student parliament at the time. I was then elected as the first woman to hold the position of the Student Representative Council (SRC) Chairperson at the APK Campus,” she adds.
To her, sports is an integral part of life and has a massive role to play in society. “Young people in sports need to understand how powerful sport can be for community building, for opportunities and social cohesion. Great ambassadors ensure that they contribute to the growth of sport and that they leave it in a better condition than what they found it” says Simelane.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected sports and everything else in ways unimaginable. To help athletes in such uncertain times, Simelane says “SASCOC has tried to assist athletes in ensuring that they stay above the waters during this Covid crisis. We have entered a partnership with Planet fitness and FitSA to give athletes access to gym facilities even at times where they may be at home and can’t for example access their university or club gyms.
“We have also provided free online webinars and sessions on mental health and mindfulness to try and help any athlete dealing with mental health issues,” she explains.
Speaking on Team SA which will be flying the country’s flag high in the Tokyo Olympics later this month, Simelane says she was in awe with what these athletes go through and still keep their eye on the ball and work hard to qualify and perform to their best ability. “I am excited and so proud of all of them and wish them the best in Tokyo,” she says.
As a young leader and education devotee, Simelane says education is a very important factor in uplifting and empowering people and communities. “I always speak honestly about the role UJ has played in my life from my experience in student politics, with UJ Sport and in my res and lecture halls. I have two qualifications from the University which assist me in delivering on my professional duties. But I think it is the life skills that being on campus have also moulded me in the leader that I am today,” she says.