Koketso M Marishane is a youth development practitioner from GaMarishane in Limpopo Province, South Africa. He is among the 2014 Top 100 UN Global Leaders and a World Economic Forum Ambassador. Ayiba’s Edem Torkornoo spoke with Koketso about grassroot activism, what’s missing in education in South Africa, and South Africa’s recent xenophobic attacks.

You’ve described yourself as “an obsessed cosmopolitan educational arts activist.” What does this mean?

It means that I am passionately seeking to educate people of all colours in all areas to understand each other and uplift themselves by using innovative methods.

What piqued your interest in education?

I was brought up in a library environment whereby my parents abused me with books. I literally had to speak in a different language other than my communal language with my parents for me to get their attention. As a result, I had to learn minimum three international languages by the time I was seven years and began participating in literary endeavours. From reading books as a young student, I realised that there was a whole world of various dimensions, colours, and characters out there, and could do so only through expanding my knowledge which calls for education. Without education, I don’t have a life.

What do you think is missing in tertiary level education in South Africa?

The challenge within the South African education system does not start at tertiary level, but primary level. The system in SA is not managed well enough and teachers are not trained to cope with the forever rapidly growing and constantly changing and challenging methodologies of teaching (technology) presented by modern world. Teachers are not motivated anymore thus becoming stumbling blocks for pupils to fulfil their potential. The current socio-economic state compared with thirty years ago demoralises them [teachers]. Moral decay makes it heavily challenging for the present youth to be easily manageable. The standard of education has painfully dropped thus making pupils incompetent compared with their global counterparts (African countries and the diasporas), and in most cases the syllabus is not relevant to the present-future needs of the world we envision. Reading, writing, and speaking basic English remains a primary factor for studies. If we do not rectify these challenges from primary level, education will remain a challenge before we even engage on the relationship of connection between available opportunities in the work force and available talent versus affordability.

What would you prioritise if you were Minister of Education for a week?

Discipline for teachers and scholars. I’d then start working on the focus areas of reading, writing, and speaking to enhance learning and to harness the passions of teachers to subjects they teach. Then I would institute a policy framework that mandates all public schools teach the correct African history to instill African patriotism with the aim of re-affirming pupils’ space in our future society—a spirit of nationhood and understanding of our relationships with the African continent should always be preserved for future generations to take pride in. Then I’d focus on the skills development of teachers by revising the current curriculum to meet international standards with special emphasis on “teaching entrepreneurship” from grassroot level. The objective would be to make the environment conducive enough to foster a common and shared national identity which would eventually facilitate smooth transitions towards continental participation, thus adding value towards an ideal vision of tangible global citizenry.

All your work has been centered around youth activism. Why?

We, as the youth, need to be exceptionally prioritised as the valuable resources because we have the resources (energy, intellectual capacity, and limited time) to our advantage, thus it’s only logical of any institution globally to prioritise youth when doing forecast. There isn’t, after all, any future without youth. The youth need to learn respect from elders who should also respect their possibilities and attributes. Youth should, logically, have more years of garnering and sharing their knowledge than the elderly, which is essential in a growing economy like South Africa. I believe, judging from my portfolio, I am that spirit.

What does grassroot activism mean to you and what would you say are the important considerations for starting grassroot initiatives?

It means forming a socio-economic initiative (club, organization, etc) within my geo-political space to implement programs that would develop in three pillars: (a) participants deriving inspiration from good leaders within the space; (b) elders (professionals and retired professionals) adding value to participants by means of skills transfer for development (coaching and mentorship); (c) service providers (SMMEs) benefit the community (households) at large by investing the profits they got from the operational community back to the youth for proper governed development. It is about transformational change, learning and teaching to experience growth. We need to first love ourselves, appreciate ourselves, and share teachings that will add value to our worth. We need to eradicate politics within grassroots initiatives.

What do you make of the current xenophobic attacks in South Africa? Do you think or agree that unemployment is the root cause or do you think there’s another underlying cause?

I deeply think there’s another cause. I will not accept that my people are killing themselves because of unemployment. These vicious elements depict the level of esteem of our fellow citizens. However, political interference with the emotive states of the uneducated youth creates the greatest and worst form of disturbance in any society. Frustration, amidst laziness in most cases, has become the norm and comfort zone of many in South Africa. Whilst ignorance to the true worth of fellow dwellers causes fear, misunderstandings, hatred, and anger which may lead to the desire of the removal of such fellows, I however deeply think that present youthful South African people, like other developing countries globally, are finding themselves born into a generational era faced with the most daunting and complex challenges humankind has ever known, such as gross inequality, high levels of youth unemployment, and seemingly intractable armed conflicts.

We need to then transform oppressed people (ourselves) into a conscious history-making force, to grapple with the making of an anti-thesis against which we’ve have inherited from the oppressors. We need to quench a culture of powerlessness in ourselves as we’ve been previously excluded from the controlling panels of power. We need to train ourselves to create leaders, or better still, pioneers, as a class which is so consumed by an excruciating hunger for assimilation. Resolutions are many to address these challenges, but I deeply think that we need to innovate tangible solutions addressing issues of migration permits (VISA), land-reform, 21st-century leadership identity, and cross-cultural identity within the context of globalisation from an African perspective as Africans—One United Africa. On the inverse, I’m acutely sentient of the challenges we face as a country, particularly that dismantling structural disparities might take time to resolve, but how then do we best resolve these challenges without causing material or immaterial harm to those centrally configured for loss to embrace global citizenry without prejudice or discrimination for an equal society?

What would Koketso’s perfect world look like? And how does the future look?

A balanced world where human species and animal species are given equal treatment. The future looks bright. My people are becoming more enlightened and conscious of the real world and taking back power. The future looks bright.