International Youth Day 2022: Interview With Fasiha Hassan

We interviewed Fasiha Hassan, the youngest member of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature, to discuss the importance of International Youth Day and youth activism.

Listen to the audio here. Read the transcript below.

Please note that the transcript is not verbatim, as it has been edited for readability.

People's Assembly

Welcome. Thank you so much for agreeing to meet People's Assembly. We are the sister organization of the Parliamentary Monitoring Group, and we are specifically focused on connecting people to their representatives. One of our main priorities this year has been to drive civic education so that people can be better informed, and in turn, be more active and engaged in local politics and national politics. You are one of the youngest members of the Gauteng Provincial legislature, and you have done a lot of really incredible work. So in light of Youth Day, we wanted to ask you why you believe that Youth Activism is so important in South Africa,

Fasiha Hassan

Youth Activism in South Africa, you know, you can't actually dissociate the two. The history of struggle and the history of South Africa, particularly at key moments, has always been led by young people. You can think of recent examples, 1976, you can even trace it all the way back down now, in the most recent example, to Fees Must Fall, which is really where I sort of cut my activism teeth, so to speak. So for me, it's fundamental. It's particularly important because in a country like ours, the majority of the population is under the age of 35. And so in almost any scientific idea of representation, of activism, of issues, we as young people should be the centre and the focus of it. Therefore that means us getting involved in our communities and getting active.

I mean, so many people think that activism is only about politics, but you can be an activist in any circle in any space that you're in - and I really want to drive that message home. You don't have to be in mainstream politics, you don't have to belong to a political party. It really is about being active in your society and in your community, and even taking what you're good at and what you love, and finding a way to give back to society using that in a very empowering sort of way. So for me, youth activism is fundamental to South Africa, it's fundamental to fixing South Africa. And most importantly it's fundamental to us as young people organizing, so that no longer are we going to be left out of the conversation and left out of the decision making process. It's about really just centering us in our own lives, really.

People's Assembly

Yeah, thank you. That's really true. Activism doesn't necessarily need to happen in a specifically political space. You, as a Member of Parliament, what are you specifically passionate about professionally, as well as personally?

Fasiha Hassan

Yeah, so being being an MPL- this is the the more personal stuff. For me, my passions are of course around skills. Firstly, education. As much as Fees Must Fall pushed us into the higher education space, the Portfolio Committee I actually sit in on is Basic Education - so that's one of the big things. We'll all agree that education is a crisis in the country, but also something we need to focus on. My second biggest passion, and perhaps actually something that I focus more on, is around youth unemployment and creating meaningful opportunities for young people. I do that both in my capacity as an MPL and in my capacity as Chairperson of the Economic Development Portfolio Committee, but also as a youth activist and leader. There's nobody sitting in this country, or outside of it, who can say that youth unemployment is not a national crisis. It is a national crisis, and it's something that we have to take extremely seriously. If every single one of us were focused on bringing an end to structural inequality and structural unemployment, I think we'd be seeing a very different outlook and outcome in the current phase. I think that's why it has become such a big part of my passion.

So often, you get politicians and public representatives who are so dissociated from their communities. For me, it's always about taking myself back into my community. It was Woman's Day recently in South Africa on the 9th of August, and I could have gone to the Union Buildings for the usual commemoration, but actually this year I decided I'm going back to Actonville Benoni, which is a community my father originates from. At every opportunity, I just want to be in communities. Tomorrow, we're going to be in the West Rand on International Youth Day. We're going to be visiting different schools in the West Rand, particularly schools that are underutilized, under resourced, and also just schools that have been forgotten. I think that's also a big part of what I'm trying to do here in terms of my passions, it to bring our communities back into the fold.

People's Assembly

Definitely. And like you said, I mean, youth employment and access to education do go hand in hand, and you've clearly played a really big role in trying to improve that, especially in the Fees Must Fall movement. Speaking of the Fees Must Fall movement and the legacy that it left behind, what more do you believe can be done to increase access to higher education? And what responsibilities should beneficiaries have?

Fasiha Hassan

A whole lot still needs to be done. This is the interesting about Fees Must Fall, we fought a great deal at the time, and even now. We managed to make some major strides at the time, but if we're not careful and we're not vigilant, it's easy to go backward. And I think I'm starting to witness that. So many young people are still coming to us with different complaints and different issues like, "I don't have funding, I'm getting financially excluded". We had hoped that we would come to a point at which your education is not determined by the money in your bank account or the money in your pocket. So there's still a great deal of work to do, both administratively and politically. And, like I said, all of that encompass encompasses the structure, changing how we do higher education. But there is, of course, a responsibility on beneficiaries. We cannot run away from that. The responsibility of beneficiaries really is just to put in their all. We are fully acknowledging that it's difficult to do that from a space of poverty, where you don't have textbooks, where you don't have food, when you don't have access to libraries, to computer labs, etc, and even electricity and data. So we can talk about those responsibilities around working hard and putting in their all, but we must also caveat that by understanding the structural barriers to access. That includes what I said, but it also goes beyond that.

So often, we have people who are beneficiaries of NSFAS sending home their stipend because back home, wherever they're from, families are living in such dire poverty with or without grants. The little money that the student is getting, they're sending home, which means that even though we technically budgeting for the fact that they have a stipend, they don't actually have the kind of support and access that they need. So for me, the conversation is very nuanced. It's very important for us to put it in that context. But it's also as important to say that every different role player has something to contribute, whether you're a lecturer, whether you're a student, whether you're an advisor, whether you're somebody who wants to fund students or a company. The private sector is also not playing a big enough role. They'll give out a handful of bursaries and pat themselves on the back and say, "Wow, we're done". When in reality, we need a lot more money in the system to sustainably fund it, but also to bring about student success, because there's so much more to student success than just looking at it on paper.

People's Assembly

Youth Day is quite a big moment to look at students and t their well being and and how they're managing. What does Youth Day mean to you? Oh,

Fasiha Hassan

So many people think of these days as celebrations. In some ways they are, but for me they're more important moments of reflection. Reflecting on where we are, but more importantly, where we want to go. It's not easy to be a young person in South Africa. We have incredible amounts of unemployment, inequality, poverty and lack of access, and it's very easy to become hopeless and disillusioned. So, on a day like International Youth Day, we can't forget about that. We can't forget that the lived experience of the majority of young people in our country is suffering. That's why for me, it's difficult to say that I'm going to celebrate a Youth Day. For me, it's more about saying, "Okay, we acknowledge all of these things. But we need to get to a point where we realize that our issues are not insurmountable." We're a country - and I say this all the time - with all the right ingredients. You know when you're cooking food, right? You can't just throw one whole onion in the pot. You need to peel it, you need to cut it up, you need to do certain things to it before you can cook it. In South Africa we have all the right ingredients. We have all the right elements and the right policies. We have money in the system - it's going to the wrong places, and it's not used efficiently because of corruption, etc. But we have money in the system.

So for me, it's about lining up those fundamentals: 1. the policy, 2. the budget behind that policy. And 3. and the most important part is the implementation. That's a big part of what we do as MPs and MPLS. We are not implementing bodies. That's not what Parliament does. We play oversight to ensure that the Executive does the job, and the reality is that there's not a lot of implementation going on. Therefore the burden is placed not only on the Executive, but even on us as Parliamentarians and public representatives, because it means that we're also not doing enough of our job to push and force implementation. Where implementation is failing, there should be consequence management. We should be able to say "Mr So and So or Minister so and so, your team at the Department is unable to implement housing, roads and transport, or safety. Safety is another big thing, especially for young women, that's not being addressed. If there isn't that implementation, we should be forcing some consequence management. So, for me, on International Youth Day, those are the fundamentals that we need to push. And of course, we must focus on centering youth voices in the space. We must not fall into this trap of thinking that the youth are apathetic. I think that youth in South Africa are not apathetic. They're incredibly political - but they're just very angry and disillusioned, and rightfully so. So it's about asking, "How do we activate young people and bring them back into that decision making space?" That's always on the top of my mind on an International Youth Day. And maybe it's the less idealistic thing to say, but there's so much work to do. There is so much work to do. We don't have the luxury as young people to give up. Because we have decades and decades and decades to live in this country. We cannot cannot give up now. In fact, we have to put in even more energy, even more time, even more work into building a South Africa that is not just going to be for us. We have to fix a South Africa so that our children now grandchildren can be proud. There's a generational mission for us around the economy that I think we really can't leave behind. That, for me, is fundamental on International Youth Day. People's Assembly

You speak about activating the youth and trying to encourage them not to lose hope and not to give up so soon. Is there one specific message that you would like to say to South Africa's youth at this moment?

Fasiha Hassan

In 2015 and 2016, when we started Fees Must Fall, everybody told us we were crazy. Everybody said, "You'll never do it, you'll never achieve what you want. What do young people really know? You've never seen struggle as they had during the Apartheid struggle". Everybody hedged their bets against us. Yet, we did in two or three years what was not done in 25 years, and we were able to change the course of history. We were able to change the course of history in our country in our early 20s. What we showed, not just South Africa but the world was that when young people are organized, and when we have a common goal across political parties and across the spectrum (whether it's private sector or public sector), we can really achieve the most incredible things. That is because we are the majority of the population in this country. It is because the future is not just in front of us, it's in our hands. We can no longer rely on the old guard to make decisions for us. It's quite clear right now, that that's led us down a deep dark hole. The reality is it's only us, as young people, who can get us out that hole. Not just Fasiha, not just Nompendulo, not just Anele. It's not just young parliamentarians. It's going to take the millions of young South Africans saying, "What skill do I have?". Even if you don't have a skill, let's say you love soccer, you must go back into your community and coach the team. If you love something in the creative arts, find a way to give back to society.

Let's organize each other, as young people outside of party politics, and really change the face of the country. And perhaps the most important time to do that is in the run up to 2024. It is a national and provincial elective year. If every young person of voting age registered and actually voted in this country, we would see a fundamental overhaul in Parliament, and a fundamental overhaul in Legislature. We will see more and more young people at the decision making table because we will be deciding for ourselves. This idea that young people don't have agency, that we don't have power, that we can't change anything, is rubbish. It's absolute rubbish. I say this as somebody who has been both inside and outside of the system. I say this as somebody who has not given up hope, and someone who believes that there are enough of us still who could change the outcome,who can make South Africa and incredibly strong economy that is egalitarian. An economy that doesn't have to have such a severe amount of poverty and inequality. We are living breathing proof that change is possible.

People's Assembly

Thank you. Thank you so much for that. And for those for those youth who don't necessarily see see it as possible, how can we encourage them to participate in the activities and opportunities that are presented by the provincial legislatures and by Parliament.

Fasiha Hassan

So there's many different opportunities and ways to get involved, and I think part of the problem is that people don't know how. So, there's the more traditional sense of following up on Portfolio Committees or going to public meetings - but there's something more there. That is that we all have constituency offices. Every single community in this country has a constituency office. It might be a greater area, it might be a smaller area. So, the first thing to do is find out on the People's Assembly website which is your constituency area. Every Monday across the country, all MPs and all MPLs have to be in their constituencies in those areas. You can go into the office, you can contact them. People don't know this, but even on your website, as the People's Assembly, all of our contact details are there. Also, social media is an incredible way to follow what we're doing and to hold us accountable. But also say to us, "I have this project in my community that I want to start. How do we get assistance to do that?" I recently got an email from a youth group who wants to make masks, and we're trying to see what we can do to support them not just in terms of creating those masks, but also around the value chain, thinking about how we empower young people at every single level. I often feel like our communities don't put enough pressure on MPs and MPLs, and I don't think that there's enough of that connection. We need to create those spaces to do it.

The easiest ways to do that are, first, to start off in a non-intimidating way through social media. You can just start following all the different account and seeing the kind of work we do. So many of us are open to ideas and thoughts. I mean, we're about to deal with the Sectional Titles Amendment Bill from the National Council of Provinces. It's a very particular and technical Bill, but it's going to affect everybody who lives in apartments. Now, the majority of people who are living in apartments are likely going to be young people. Yet we don't even know about this bill, or how it's going to affect us. So, there's so many opportunities to get involved, and so many opportunities to roll up our sleeves. And, like I said, there's different things you can you can do besides the intensely political stuff. You can even just say, "This is a community project we're doing on sanitary towels. Please come and assist us, or help us with funding, and help us get it set up as an NPO". That's also part of our duty and our responsibility. It's not just about going to the Legislature or to Parliament and having debates. That's part of it, but perhaps the more important part is being the backbone of our communities, and being community activists alongside fellow young people as well.

People's Assembly

Thank you. Yeah, it's definitely always a good idea to use social media and the websites to your advantage and to leverage that space, because it really is a great way to stay connected. And of course, the information is out there. It's just about knowing where to find it.

Fasiha Hassan

Exactly. It's also just about us making it accessible. So even if it becomes boring to follow a parliamentary page or legislature page, you can also follow me on my personal pages where we post a lot about our work. If it becomes intimidating to speak to a page, then speak to us. We're trying to change the game that determines how you can access public representatives and legislators. If I get an Instagram message or a Twitter DM, that's as important to me as an email, and equally as important as community engagement in a public meeting. So often those things are undermined, but we're young and that's how we interact with each other, and that's also how we can be as accessible as possible.

People's Assembly

Definitely. Earlier, you mentioned that there are so many opportunities in which you can engage with provincial governments. But actually, recently, there has been some talk that provincial governments should be abolished. Do you think that's fair? Why do you think that provincial legislatures are so important? Fasiha Hassan

So for me, provincial legislatures are fundamental. So often people think that you can just have local government and national government. Now remember, national government does a lot more of the policy work. With local government, firstly, their capacity is in question. You see it in our daily lives whether you're going to a local clinic or a local school, or even just driving or being in public transport. The state of our roads, the state of our public transport, all of them on the brink of crisis, and that also is a local government competence. So, provincial government is a very important link between the two. It is a link between the policy and the strategy, and the actual implementation. But I'll give you a more specific example: with my friends and colleagues who sit in the National Assembly and the NCOP, very few of them do oversight work (that is physically going into our communities). Whereas at a Legislature level, every week I'm in a different community. Like I said, by the time everyone watches this, I'm going to be in the West Rand, probably in the Forkvillel area where we know there's been issues of illegal mining, and where we've been seeing a huge, huge upsurge in violence, where people are not feeling safe. We're going to be going into schools and seeing what we can do to assist. Now, the national Portfolio Committee for Basic Education does oversight once a quarter. That means once every three or four months they are going into schools, and there's no way they can cover the kind of ground that we do because every single week we're in a different community. And that goes for any Portfolio Committee, whether it's Social Development, whether it's Healthcare, whether it's Economic Development where I Chair. There's just so much more that provincial governments can do that are perhaps not being utilized well enough.

I think it would be a mistake to remove provincial government, and I say that because I have had the experience of interacting on all of those different levels. There's just not enough happening to link and fuse national and local, and that's one of the big roles that provincial government and provincial legislatures can play. But I think there's an incredible discussion that's going on. If that is the way the country decides to move, let's make sure that the modalities are quite clear, that we're not hindering any further service delivery, and that we're not hindering any other challenges. Because, so often, when you find a dysfunctional municipality, the province has to step in. And I'll give you an example in Emfuleni, where provincial government has had to step in because there was just a complete inability to run the municipality. Forget doing service delivery, they weren't even able to pay the salaries of workers that were within the municipality. Without provincial government, national government would have found out far too late. So that's number one. Number two: it's not the role of national government to micromanage municipalities. If there's a failure to do that, that's the role of provincial government. There's so many different examples of why provincial governments can be important, but perhaps what needs to be said is that we're not utilizing the constitutional powers of provincial government, and also the leverage that it can provide. People's Assembly

Yeah, definitely. For you, personally, what are your plans in the legislature for the remainder of your term in office?

Fasiha Hassan

So before COVID, we were trying to push for a climate change Bill. That didn't really work in a provincial level, but now it's coming through on the national level. So that's a Section 76 Bill on Climate change, and it's going to be including a lot of elements aroun climate justice. That's something we're going to be really spearheading in Gauteng when it comes to us, because a lot of that is being drawn from what we have already prepared and submitted. for us, a big part of what we're trying to do is rework the strategy on youth development and youth unemployment interventions. We all are very aware that the current interventions are not sufficient enough. So we're going far and wide. We'll be undergoing an interview process to understand why it's not working, and hear specifically from young people. We'll also bring in as many industry experts as we can, so that we can shift the economic policy, and push so that, at least in Gauteng, we can get this thing right, and help to employ young people on all these different levels. That will be used as a national standard for how we solve youth unemployment. So that's a little bit of it, but another big focus is the township economy and small and medium owned businesses(SMMEs), particularly those that are run by young people and women.

We're looking at different ways in which we can support them, both financially and non-financially ways. And there's a number of different legislative gaps that have opened up in Basic Education, but also in terms of how we do monitoring and evaluation in provincial government. So that's a little bit of a sprinkling, so to speak, of what we're working on at the moment. But we're still open to ideas. We still have two and a half years left of the term, and if there's something that someone out there has a particularly wonderful idea on, we can consider it. Another thing I forgot to mention is around green energy and sustainable energy. We want to make it not just attractive and appealing, but we want to legislatively start saying that every building that goes up must have a certain element of renewable energy to supplement the grid that we already have. So that's one of the ideas, but anyone at home who has ideas about what we could do, or has identified a legislative gap, please come to us. Gone are the days of thinking that there are demigods in Legislatures and Parliament and the Executive. In fact, it should be the other way around. It should be communities who lead us, and we must really merely be the conduits for that implementation. But yes, there will be big focuses on climate change, big focuses on green energy in the economy, and youth unemployment as well.


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