by Rio Matlhaku
South Africa is undergoing what could be described as some form of catharsis, from the grotesque and eye-popping revelations at the Zondo Commission into State Capture to news reports about acts of corruption by those mandated to lead our society. These events have created a depressing national mood. The country also has a problem with Gender-Based Violence which is a result of our patriarchal society. The latter has led to a focus on how men, particularly young men are socialized in our communities and who do they view as their role models.
In 2019, I decided to spend two hours a month with a group of boys from Kliptown in Soweto at an NGO called Kliptown Youth Program (KYP) as my contribution towards mentoring young men.
The organization looks after 600 kids from the local informal settlement providing meals, educational support through tutorials, and psycho-social guidance by a qualified social worker.
I am also a member of the board of trustees at KYP and a co-chairperson of KYP’s Vocational Development Programme, which is a sub-committee of the board. Its mandate is to help prepare members who have finished high school with job readiness training and identifying entry-level job opportunities for them.
The Boys Group as we call ourselves has agreed to make honesty, transparency, and trust the foundation of our engagements. We have also adopted the Chatham House Rules which dictate that whatever is discussed in our sessions cannot be shared elsewhere. Approximately 35 boys aged between 13-18 years are part of this effort.
What I have learnt in my discussion with the boys is the importance of trust and transparency. During our first session, I shared my life story which included the fact that like them I grew up in Soweto, that I also went to local schools as they do. I also shared my journey of having to work for two years to save money to pay for my tertiary education.
What I was doing was setting up a platform for trust by being transparent about my background, my journey, and life- warts and all, and what I hope we as a group will achieve through our deliberations.
It took a few sessions for most of the boys to open up about how they relate to women in their lives such as, their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts and female friends and acquittances. It took more than 5 sessions for some of the boys to start talking and sharing their thoughts and feelings about women, relationships in general and their struggles with subjects such as mathematics and English. Some even owned up about the struggles they encountered with their confidence.
A case study by the Myers-Briggs Company discovered that trust was key in building relationships, motivating others and to enhance collaboration.
As stated in the Myers-Briggs study, we have decided to place transparency at the centre of our engagements. I have said to the boys that we will all try to share the truth. That it is important to do so, particularly being honest about matters that are either painful or embarrassing. To paraphrase Lao Tzu’s proverb, our journey of a thousand miles has just started, I hope that the boys will gather wisdom, be inspired and grow up to be productive members and leaders of society.