Vanguards of the Future

The youth of this new millennium are poised to make their mark in a world that is on the cusp of an era that holds possibilities to make a quantum leap and chart a new course for human development.

The hopes of a country and the future of a nation lie in the hands of its young generation. This is the opening line of the preamble of the white paper titled Youth of China in the New Era published in April 2022 by the State Council Information Office of China. Those born at the turn of the millennium in the year 2000 will have reached the age of 22 this year. These youngsters have been raised in an extraordinary time during unprecedented circumstances. Their perceptions, and the reality they encounter in their daily life will determine the direction of human development.

Youth, whether in China, Africa or elsewhere, have their dreams and ideals, carry the hopes of the previous generations, and guarantee the continuation of the species, as is the natural order of things. The profound ancestral connection is a common cultural trait of both African and Chinese, and has not been lost despite the proliferation of digital connectivity. There are 780 million Africans aged 25 and below, and as the population of Africa is expected to double by the turn of the century, this figure is likely to grow.

An African participant of the Fifth China-Africa Youth Festival experiences pottery-making in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, on Oct. 28, 2021 (Photo/Xinhua)

Young Chinese have always played a vanguard role in the quest for national rejuvenation, the preamble of the white paper states. And so are young Africans. South Africa celebrates Youth Day on June 16 to pay tribute to the heroic school children who stood up unarmed against the brutal military might of the apartheid regime in Johannesburg’s southwestern township of Soweto. This uprising, in which several hundred lost their lives, became a crisis for the racist regime and a turning point for justice and equality in South Africa. The photograph of the lifeless body of 12-year-old Hector Pietersen being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo taken by Sam Nzima became an iconic depiction of the struggle for freedom.

The actions of the youth who rose up against teaching in Afrikaans, a language which was considered the language of the oppressor, drew the attention of the international community to the horrors of apartheid, which then made concerted efforts to rid the country of the scourge of apartheid.

The year 2022 also marks 100 years of the founding of the Communist Youth League of China. In the mid-19th century, Chinese people were suffering many hardships under a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society. The May-Fourth Movement was started by students who gathered to protest the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, which left parts of China’s territory under Japan’s control. China did not sign the treaty at the end of the war.

Young people pose for photos at the site of the first National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Shanghai on May 4, 2021 (Photo/Xinhua)

China’s youth today have a wealth of history, art, science and culture to draw inspiration from. The adoption of a system of socialism with Chinese characteristics has transformed a poor nation into a moderately prosperous country in which the people are the priority.

5G connectivity, instant information and communication, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are the cutting edge tools that are revolutionizing innovation with the new generation at the heart of this human development.

As is the case with every new generation, the youth are also confronted with the challenges of the time, be it climate change which has a direct impact on human behaviour and the environment, or the unfolding social dynamics.

The solutions to some of these challenges may be obvious to the young people who have enthusiasm, resilience and resolve of youthfulness on their side. They are also equipped with the knowledge of the successes of the past generations and the lessons from the failures that were endured.

The youth of this new millennium are poised to make their mark in a world that is on the cusp of an era that holds possibilities to make a quantum leap and chart a new course for human development.


The author is director of the Diplomatic Society of South Africa.