By Teboho Mabuka and Julia Paolillo.
On Friday the 25th of February, ALA students started noticing cryptic signs posted around campus. To the majority of the student body, these signs meant very little; simply advising that students ‘steer clear of the auditorium’ on Saturday. However to four 2nd year students and a gap year, these signs were crystal clear. It was these five students, Teboho Mabuka, Lillian Maboya, Mcebo Maziya, Edwin Warsanga, and Julia Paolillo, who were afforded the opportunity to attend to former South African President Thabo Mbeki during his Saturday visit.
President Mbeki visited the campus for the annual Thabo Mbeki Foundation Youth Conference, which focuses on the concept of the African Renaissance and how youth can play a part in turning this concept into reality. All day the campus was filled with young visitors from all over South Africa, who specialize in various fields of expertise (IT, Financial sector, health and many more) and whose goals and ideals were very much the same as those of ALA. These were the young, passionate and inspirational leaders, who were working towards a brighter future for a united continent.
As we arrived at the auditorium — where the conference was to be held — we were greeted by a host of influential delegates, among them former Minister of Agriculture Thoko Didiza and Former President Thabo Mbeki’s legal advisor, Advocate Mojanku Gumbi. Their kind salutations and keen interest in our aspirations created a friendly environment that allowed us to ask questions freely and to feel as if we were already important delegates representing thousands of people in the conference. We each received packages filled with documents that would help us further understand the measures already put in place to realize the foundation’s vision and notes on previous meetings. With cups filled with coffee/tea and the most delicious biscuits at hand, we proceeded into the auditorium with excitement encrypted on our faces.
In the conference, we discussed how educational systems should be structured to produce students who are analytical and critical of the information they receive, so as to create societies that are well informed and ready to use their knowledge to create a better Africa. The conference also discussed different ways of bringing about unity among the youth of Africa, such as exchange programs, transnational discussion forums, and educational opportunities. These topics hit home with all of us, because as students at African Leadership Academy, pan-African cooperation and collaboration are part of our everyday lives, as we are a community made up of 36 nationalities from around Africa and America. Thus having had the time to experience the different cultures and perspectives within the academy we knew how imperative it was for young Africans to learn about each other so as to combat divisions and misunderstandings that translate to conflicts in Africa.
After a day of networking and socializing, we had the opportunity to meet President Mbeki himself. As we gathered, preparing how our campus tour would go, the nerves in the group were palpable. In a group of emerging South African, Tanzanian, and American leaders, none of us could ignore the fact that we were about to meet one of the most influential politicians of our lifetimes. As we stood, Lillian planning what we were to say, President Mbeki stepped out of the Library to meet us. We went around, introducing ourselves and shaking hands with the President, most of us smiling and laughing nervously. Flanked by President Mbeki’s four person personal security force, the tour begun.
As we walked around the quad —the central circular area on campus- we each took turns in telling the former president about our experiences and activities in ALA. From the energetic Frisbee games in the quad, to the Culminating service projects founded and managed by the students. It was truly amazing how interested and inquisitive the president seemed as we continued to share with him our individual aspirations. I personally was encouraged to continue telling my story to the world, and sharing my dream for Africa. The tour ended with a photo shoot with the president by our very own Mr. Parks, where we took numerous pictures to remind ourselves of this great opportunity ALA afforded us. What a day!
Teboho Mabuka is in her second year at ALA. She is originally from South Africa.
Julia Paolilo is a gap year student from the United States.