New Era had an in-depth interview with Bernadus Swartbooi, the Acting Secretary for Information and Publicity of the Swapo Party Youth League. Here follows extracts of the verbatim version of the interview, on the state of youth, youth development, youth opportunities and youth and Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment.
New Era: Good Day and thank you for hosting us, Mr Swartbooi. The first thing that we need to get right into is the definite hot topic of the Grade 10 situation. It has been in the public forum and how core is the situation to the SPYL.
Swartbooi: Thank you it is important to underline the basis of our involvement particularly around the question of education, especially the Grade 10 issue. This comes directly out of our resolutions of the last SPYL congress. Where the resolution was very clear on the question of education, where it states that we need to look at the Grade 10 issues to make sure that we have our Grade 10 kids back at school.
Now this resolution was again reaffirmed by the mother body congress, which was held in November of last year. Which we reaffirmed once again that Grade 10 kids ought to have a second chance.
Now it is with this, if you can call it double mandate that we are telling the ministry that we are telling them colleagues this is the situation and this is where we come from, this is what our constitutional and congress mandates are, and that we want grade 10 to be taken back to school and they proceed with normal school, and that is the basis of our involvement.
In terms of the critical nature of the issue of Grade 10, we have connected the issue of grade 10 to the overall concept of sustainable development, and this is really the crux of the matter. The issue is that of generational connectivity, we are arguing that what happens to a person after Grade 10.
If I may interject Sir, the problem is that issue has been oncoming for 17 years. Now the question is this, did it have to wait until 17 years to be enumerated into the mother body so that it became a matter of sustainable development and become a concern within the mother body and like you rightfully put it, what becomes of a person after Grade 10?
You must understand the context that once a policy has been implemented, any policy, it takes time because it also starts assuming its life. You have to monitor the policy and evaluate and try as much as possible to smoothen out the implementation of the policy.
Now John, once a policy is implemented you obviously do not say that it is an embedded policy, any policy is subject to change, when time requires that a change be made. Now if for instance you do not change course when a policy is introduced then it is not good governance. Because you see that certain conditions, objectively viewed, arise which conditions you either anticipate and outcomes you did not foresee than change is imminent. That is when you look back and say that “we have to change there are certain things that are not working and have not been our intentions. Now when this policy was introduced …
The policy of education that is now …?
Yes it was not necessarily meant to throw a person on the streets that is why you saw that Namcol was brought about so that it can ease the pressure in the formal set-up. It had its successes and it also had its failures, and for us it was about to look at the objective and see that now it is the time to change the direction, and that once you realize that you need to change the policy you go ahead and change the policy to address the concerns that you have about the policy.
Now one can argue and say that children have been thrown on the streets by the Government, which will be a blatant lie. It will be opportunistic to say that. What one needs to do is look at the education policy of this country from a holistic point of view, meaning that look at the point of view of education, the position of youth and what government is doing around the question of child equality and gender equality. To argue that children in Grade 10 that did not make it to Grade 11 were not allowed to go back to formal school meant that the people were thrown out of school, is wrong.
But that is the general perspective viewed by the public, and observable by the fact that alternatively if I am not in Namcol, if I am not in a vocational training centre, if I am not absorbed by any other formal or informal set-up, aside from that offered by Government, but just at home becomes a numerical issue, because many learners find themselves in that situation and that is an observable factor. And that is that public perspective.
Well then all I can say is that perspective I appreciate it and that every perspective has a premise and it is wrong.
And the premise is?
That premise is unless I am in the formal school I am nobody, unless I am in Namcol I am nobody. I mean nothing for the future of this country I become second class. Now Government has consistently raised and it is on record, it has institutions that can absorb these people. Obviously that avenue has been strengthened.
I can tell you this John, the GRN has over and over argued the creation of small and medium enterprises, you will now obviously argue and say but how many young people have been able to benefit from this.
Then we say well let’s connect that to the private sector, so that they can come in and help. What has monopoly capital done to ensure that resources are dispersed and put in circulation where young minds can gauge sufficient resources to practise that?
For example, when you see enterprise development in the tourism sector.
You still see that the tourism sector is largely an exclusive terrain of historically advantaged Namibians and some foreign individuals. Of course we are not saying we do not want foreign direct investments but in that context we are saying that how has that industry responded to aid the entrance of the historically disadvantaged Namibians to enter that market? We can talk about other industries as well, what has been their contribution to help the young people in the sustainable development and growth of the sector or our population and for future development?
What I am trying to say here is that when something is not working you review and evaluate or add value to it with the aim to achieve the goals that you have set out to be in the process. For instance, if we are claiming and correctly stating that our education system has been consistently improving by at least 2,6 percent per year then how do we add value to the things we are saying?
But Mr Swartbooi, contrary to your statement education pundits do indicate that ever since the introduction of our system of education our pass rate has been below fifty percent, in terms of translating those numericals into success it is as clear as daylight and only comparable to like “the blind leading the blind” story.
The issue of blind leading the blind story, I do not even want to think for one second that the Government of this country is blind or any policy of this party through the Government is blind. In fact, this party has been very progressive in terms of its policy, in terms of its financial policy, health policy, education and even youth policy. And it has provided us with stability and good governance and a public sector that is responsive to the needs of the people.
There is no blindness in that, clearly.
Look back at history – although people are not keen on history but it is the truth, when you look at that fifty percent pass rate, can anybody now come and tell us we had the kind of access in 1973, or 1967, or 1945, or 1912 of what we enjoying now?
But we did not have a Government of self-rule back then …
It does not matter, whether we had a government or not, what matters is that Government has done its part and people to say that it is only 17 years. Now you tell me John, did the Government ever say that after 17 years we will be perfect or 17 years will be our deadline for all problems to be solved? No, and never did it do that. So the process is evolutionary and ongoing whilst we are busy changing and modifying along the road, what can be wrong with that? What is this preoccupation with 17 years as if Swapo Party ever said just give us 17 years and everything will be perfect?
We can talk about access to education, we can talk about quality education, and people say that no bring back Bantu Education, but my God where is your confidence? Education is not failing, but Swapo is not scared to say that there are challenges. And there are challenges indeed. Swapo is not denying that.
To go back to your issue of sustainable development, in terms of creating that chain and enabling growth and development, you mention this in the context of institutional capacity and input versus output does not reflect quality. But now the question is that less and less learners are getting access to tertiary institutions. Should this trend continue like this it becomes a worry.
Very good question. I would like to have a greater public forum on this and I don’t agree that the input in education in this country is of less value qualitatively versus both human and financial resources. And your premise of saying that the input has not matched the output is completely wrong. If you measure all the input that has been made on the basis of all the access to the Polytechnic or the University, then your premise is wrong.
The question is not quantity and quality but quality versus quantity.
Then I don’t understand now what you are trying to say.
You have accessibility of almost hundred thousand to formal school, and figures indicate that last year you had roughly the Grade 12 Namibia Senior Certificate Ordinary Level examination indicating that 31 243 candidates sat for examinations of which 16 795 were part time, and now from all this only 3 256 learners qualified for university admission this year
On that point if you used that statistic then something is wrong with your premise, because you only look at the number of people that get to university as opposed to those that are in school. Unfortunately tertiary institutions are not the only ones, and that is what the education ministry has been saying. We need to expand to vocational training and many other areas.
Let’s change course, and talk on youth competitiveness.
When we talk about competitiveness versus jobs available we want people that can go and employ others. Once we say that we want to have ten thousand young people that will employ others, the first thing is where do we find the resources and we have been pushing for public/private partnership, but it has not been oncoming. Government has been hard at work, but let the others come on board. If for example Government grants a young graduate from Neudamm College a resettlement farm to plant crops, he does that but where does he find the market to sell his products, if the private sector does not come through to assist Government in this regard?
Understanding youth development in this country, what do you say is the lacklustre approach of young people in this country to be innovative and go that extra mile to just become that someone?
Just the other day I had a conversation with a friend who said that the country is not yet free and he was sharing his corporate world experience around young freedom that he and many of them, ourselves – the historical advantage experience as employers already inside the private sector companies. Now my friend was saying that how this project proposal of young people is taken and given to someone else to finance but when the young guys bring it in themselves they are told that there is no money. The only answer they give to young people is that it is not bankable. But now you tell me that when someone takes this project proposal of a young person and gives it to someone else and finances, how then do you claim that the young people are not innovative? As long as there is not in our view a strong and general partnership between Government and the private sector then there is a problem.
Are you saying that the private sector is not bringing in their part?
Oh yes, not all of them though there are some few, for example FNB is doing that, we have to improve that, and parastatals for example…
But almost 75 percent of all parastatals are empowering young Namibians in terms of bursaries.
Very good, but that is not enough, you can just give five people and have a big media conference and that’s it while your profit margin is around 120 million, congratulations but why not make it 20 million? If every parastatal makes a commitment to finance at least 20 young people every year then we at least have 200 well trained young people alone out of the seam of state owned entities, and similar with the private sector on top of what Government is doing. That is the support we need. Please come on board.
But who is to take up the role of being the vehicle that transports the idea to the ears of those that need to hear, if not SPYL itself? How can one engage them and say let’s work out a solution?
I hear you and that is exactly what the SPYL as the largest youth organization has done, we have talked about education, its impact. It is there, we have talked about business our comrade Nekuundi has talked about the need for the financing of young people’s enterprises and tenders to be given to young people. Those recommendations are being taken up.
We have talked about anything and we have been engaging Government, even now John we are talking about climate change and we are saying let’s join hands, let’s push for utilization or renewable energy sources to help our young people grow, so we are talking and we are engaging. Let’s push for a greener economy – those are just some of the areas we can develop. Now obviously when we speak about this there are those quarters that negate our discussion as misguided irrelevant discussions and intuitions of the youth league. We are concerned that if we don’t make use of the subsequent environment that is availed by Government then sustainable development – we can forget about it.
Counter-arguments are that if we keep discussing in the political set-up, young people will shy away and knowing that youth are apolitical and have political apathy that is why youth do not seem to engage in this?
I don’t agree completely I am a youth and I am involved in politics. If you mention party politics unfortunately this part of a multiparty democracy, and they have to sell the different agenda and the only party that has been successful and will continue to be successful it is the Swapo Party. Providing a progressive and reliable platform, some people don’t want us to say that but we will continue to do that.
However, it also your responsibility in the journalistic issue to look at the issues and raise them objectively, kindly assist us that the message that we are taking forth is broad and it involves us. When we speak education it does not mean that it if for SPYL but for all of us. Let’s contest ideas – that is what we are saying.
The last question is on the issue of Aids, not withstanding the fact the pandemic is not decreasing and if all what you mentioned earlier regarding sustainable development and youth development and growth of the youth.
Are we not to say this we are facing imminent danger of achieving those ideals you so eloquently put – what is SPYL’s stand in this regard?
You are right in what you said we are facing imminent danger, and we are already in the danger zone. Great work has been done since the time of the Deputy Prime Minster when she was Health Minister. You recalled that we are now providing anti-retroviral drugs to almost 34-health centre across the country. that has really helped people to access those drugs free of charge and it has helped people to prolong their lives. Rates have stabilized at the ages of up to 20, it has been doing so consistently. We are not out of danger yet and awareness campaigns continue unabatedly. That is why condoms’ distribution. Decisions have been taken and we are working day and night to make sure that things are going on to make sure that we respond. But apart from this the responsibility still lies with the young people and we call upon the young people to stop and not indulge in way ward behaviourism.
Abstinence where necessary, but if not safety should be your main concern
Mr Swartbooi, thank you very much for hosting us.