Veteran politician Vernon Johnson Mwanga says young people must fill the leadership gap which has been left by the older generation.

Speaking at a youth summit in South Africa yesterday held under the theme ‘The year of O.R. Tambo: advancing youth economic empowerment’, VJ said young people must be optimistic about their plans and set realistic goals.

“I am very passionate about the subject of youth empowerment generally, because I assumed leadership empowerment in my country Zambia at the young age of 21 years in 1965, when I was appointed Ambassador to the Soviet Union as it was then called, now Russia. I became Minister of Foreign Affairs at the age of 28 years in 1973 at a very difficult and challenging time in Zambia’s and Africa’s history, because of the liberation wars, which were in progress at that time, in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau,” VJ said.

“Whether we like or not, there is a leadership crisis in Africa and even in the world today. It is often said that you the youth, are the future leaders of our continent and the world. We have an aging leadership which has been moving from inclusiveness to separatism; from transparency to corruption; from collaboration to anarchy; from eco to ego systems. This approach cascades downwards to the masses resulting in mediocrity, corruption, small mindlessness and non- performance. Africa should not be left behind and you the young people should fill the leadership gap which has been left by my generation and those before me. Many years ago, Africa was regrettably regarded as a dark continent. Our Continent must erase this tag, because we are no longer a dark Continent. We are the Continent of the future. We are endowed with all kinds of minerals and other national resources which the world will need for many years to come.”

VJ advised young people not be afraid of taking risks but to be ambitious.

“Young people must show ambition and not be afraid to take risks. You should start small business enterprises and aim at making them big in future. You may stumble and even fall at times, but through this experience, you will gain and recognize your strength and limitations and be better able to do things better next time. Don’t let someone tell you that you cannot do something. You should be clear in your own minds as to what exactly you want to do and the skills you need to do it. When problems arise along the way, you must have plans to correct these problems and even have alternative plans to achieve the same objectives. You should believe in your plans and set realistic goals which are achievable,” he said.

And VJ described Oliver Tambo as a humble, patient leader who did more listening than talking.

“I should hasten to add, that I had a very close personal and official relationship with Oliver Reginald Tambo, when he was in exile in Zambia and in other parts of Africa. He spent many precious and unforgettable nights at my house in Lusaka, when the security situation demanded. I also interacted with him at close quarters when he visited the United Nations Headquarters in New York where I was Ambassador there from 1968 to 1972. During my interactions with OR I soon discovered that he was a deeply committed leader of your struggle and recognized the important role young people were playing in the liberation of South Africa. He acknowledged that without the involvement of young people, the struggle against apartheid would be that much more difficult to prosecute and win. He was deeply conscious that it was the young people of South Africa who were carrying arms to fight against the evil system of apartheid. He was mindful that these young people both men and women had left their families in South Africa, sometime without saying good bye to their loved ones to carry out dangerous assignments on behalf of the ANC without any certainty that they would return home alive,” said VJ.

“OR was alive to all these human challenges and that is why when there were problems in ANC camps be it in Zambia, Angola, Tanzania, or elsewhere, he went personally to deal with these problems facing ANC Combatants and usually found humane solutions to them. His belief in the youth led to him being one of the founder members of the ANC Youth League on April 2, 1944, when he was 27 years old, along with Walter Sisulu and Robert Sobukwe. In 1948, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu were elected as members of the National Executive Committee of ANC thus becoming the first Youth League leaders to join the main ANC NEC. OR was a humble, patient leader who did more listening than talking. He respected the views of others, even when he did not agree with them. He was not judgmental about other people. His training as a lawyer was put to use in an extraordinary way, which won him the admiration, respect and trust of ANC cadres, host Countries and International Organizations he interacted with to explain the aims and objectives of the ANC to the world. By honouring this great man, this great African and this world citizen, who would have been 100 years old this year, if he had not gone to the land of the silent to join his ancestors – you have honoured all of us who believed in what he stood for.”