By Francis Tsawayo WINDHOEK The Southern Africa Youth Festival held at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe was hailed as a platform where young people in the region interacted and strengthened regional solidarity. At the festival there were calls for the inclusion of young people in delegations to inter-governmental meetings to enable youth involvement in international relations towards fostering greater integration and cooperation in the long term. Presenting the outcome of the festival at a press conference held early this week, the Deputy Minister of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture, Pohamba Shifeta, said the event, the first of its kind in the region, provided an opportunity for youths to share their experiences, culture and importantly that the youths from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) were given the chance to interact with their peers as they are the leaders of tomorrow who would have to address challenges facing the continent. The deputy minister stressed there is a need for youths to act together as the current leaders did during the days of the liberation struggle to avoid future conflicts, to facilitate easy conflict-resolution, and to identify as well as exchange ideas to overcome challenges that young people in the region face. The youths from the eleven nations tabled issues pertaining to integration and cooperation, urging governments to establish and strengthen national youth coordinating bodies to ensure that they are properly legislated and governed by acts of parliament. Also highlighted was the need for sustainable sources of funding to ensure efficient operations through government contributions towards the budgetary requirements of the national youth coordinating bodies. The conference went on to raise concern on the prevalence of poverty in the region, calling for a need to embrace the scientific and technological revolution in order to enhance the efficiency of industry and commerce as well as provide special assistance to the informal sector to bridge the technological gap that exists. The discussion on poverty reduction yielded recommendations that pressed for regular reviews of educational systems to ensure compatibility with production and employment as well as addressing the gap between education and employment. Educational systems should be practical and able to impart skills easily absorbed in industry, the public service and other avenues of employment. Governments were also urged to make education accessible to all youths and not an elitist privilege it has become and to use national youth services as a platform for young people to assist in poverty reduction programmes. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS, particularly amongst young people, raised concern at the festival, leading delegates to push for behavioural changes and more advocacy campaigns and strategies to encourage responsible behaviour amongst youths. National AIDS coordinating bodies were called upon to ensure young people are represented in their governance structures as well as programme implementation. In addition, commercialisation and profiteering from the pandemic was condemned. The issue of economic empowerment of youths in the region also received attention with delegates calling once more on governments to set up youth development funds, which will provide finance, guarantees, capital and other forms of support for young people to go into business. Shifeta lastly called out to the youth to organise themselves to influence governments to draw up policies and mechanisms to guide them.
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