Young people pushing boundaries Part 1 | Dr John Molepo

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Wednesday marks 45 years since young people in Soweto, Gauteng, took the streets to voice their opposition to Afrikaans being forced down their throats as a medium of instruction and scenes of young people protesting remain a familiar sight in the country.

Earlier, this year students across different tertiary institutions protested against financial exclusion. The protests that began at the University of the Witwatersrand spread to other institutions across the country.

Civil servant, Mthokozisi Ntumba, lost his life when police fired rubber bullets at protesters.  While young people continue to face a range of challenges, some have picked up the baton from the youth of 1976 to challenge the status quo.

Dr. John Molepo (31) is one of the two game-changers SABC Digital News is focusing on as the country honours the courage and sacrifice of young people.

“If you want to go quickly, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together,” is an African proverb that University of Mpumalanga Senior Lecturer lives by.  Seeing the growing need for financial assistance among his students while he was a lecturer at the Tshwane University of Technology, Molepo founded the Thusangwaneno Non-Profit Organisation.

“I remember when I started Thusangwanageno, a student came to my office crying that she will have to drop out due to fees, I then gave her part of my salary to pay. I realised that I could not sustain this through my salary and looked for help. I started going to the streets looking for assistance and this gave birth to Thusangwanego,” says the 31-year-old.

Dr.John Molepo raising funds for underprivileged students.

Since 2015, the organisation has assisted more than 600 students with registration and tuition fees. The organisation has also expanded to helping refurbish libraries and assisting more than 150 students with learners and drivers’ licenses.

Molepo’s generous ways are inspired partly by his lecturers who played an integral part while he was a student at the Tshwane University of Technology.  Among the lecturers is Professor Mashupye Maserumule.

“I call him old man. He is one of the scholar par excellence, currently the Executive Dean at TUT and Chief Editor of Journal of Public Administration. Besides his intellectual prowess, he has a good orientation to nurturing young people. He managed to pay for many things in my life, including my drivers’ license. He instilled a culture of giving back and he is a fighter,” Dr Molepo says.

Leadership roles

Molepo grew up in Soshanguve, north of Pretoria. He says his background and job in academia pushed him to do well academically.

The journey was not without obstacles. “What also motivated me was my work environment. Amongst the requirements was the necessity to hold a Ph.D. hence I studied further. I remember in one of the meetings I attended, they said “only those with PhDs should attend the meeting”. I decided to push with my postgraduate studies. During the journey of becoming a doctor, I  was diagnosed with depression, and that led to me having to take chronic medication to deal with the stress and pressure.”

In 2019, he became the youngest Department of Public Management graduate to receive a doctorate at 29.

Molepo started assuming leadership roles at a young age. In school, he was a member of the Representative Council of Learners and later became an African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) Chairperson in Ward 36.

He is currently an accounting officer of the South African Association of Public Administration and Management (SAAPAM), an organisation that promotes good governance and effective service delivery.

“I manage the day-to-day operations of the association which includes running of the scientific journal (one of the top journals in Social Sciences), membership drive, and many other important issues. I am supported by the administrators and so far the journey has been great with learning opportunities. I interact with academics, practitioners, and students, so I am continuously learning.”

Issues facing the youth

South Africa’s official unemployment rate currently stands at 32.6%.  Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Survey earlier this month revealed that 2.1% of the unemployed persons are graduates, while 7.5% had other tertiary qualifications as their highest level of education.

Economist Dr. Azar Jammine unpacks unemployment statistics: 

With the current status quo, how and why should young people then be encouraged to study?

“Well, amongst other things that motivate the current generation is material possessions.  With the growing graduate unemployment, it becomes difficult to encourage young people to go to school and study further. We need to instill a culture of learning in our society. Young people should be inspired by the pursuit of wisdom. In addition, graduates who are doing well should go back to their communities to encourage and support young people to go to school. We need to address the challenges of the youth by setting ourselves as good examples. We need to implement solutions that can address the problems young people are facing,” says Dr Molepo.

The academic is calling for more organisations to help equip the youth with knowledge and skills to help them to deal with alcohol and drug abuse, poverty and mental illnesses.

He advises aspiring academics to allow themselves to make mistakes and learn in the process.