Youth unite government and communities

PROMPTED by a lack of understanding between communities and government structures, a youth based Non-Profit Organisation (NPO) from Pietermaritzburg has started a programme called Virtual State in a bid to encourage communities to work together with the government in finding amicable solutions with regards to problems affecting them.

The NPO, known as Natal Midlands Development Programme was established in 2009 and consists mainly of young people from Sweetwaters and Vulindlela areas.  When the organisation was established, its main aim was to develop communities and to assist people who could not finish their matric under the old curriculum to re-write their exams as the old curriculum had been phased out in 2007 and replaced with the Nation Curriculum Statement in 2008. Those who had not completed under the old curriculum had been given up until 2010 to rewrite their matric examinations under the old curriculum. 

Virtual State President Mlungisi Mncwabe said that he identified a communication gap between government and communities after attending a Public Participation Workshop that was conducted by the KZN legislature. They had then decided to come up with a programme called Virtual State where by communities mimic what the government is doing in order to come up with their own solutions. 

 He said: “The programme works like any other parliament and executive as we assign people different portfolios from your President to Ministers, just like government does. These people are then responsible for debating about issues affecting their communities and at the same time are encouraged to find solutions at a community level. 

While this is a community based project, we also ask for government’s expertise and guidance on issues that we are unable to solve by ourselves. This has happened through a virtual parliament whereby we were invited by KZN legislature in 2017 to come and debate our issues in parliament.”

Mncwabe said often in communities, service delivery protests and dissatisfaction are as a result of a lack of understanding of how government works and vice versa as government cannot implement projects without understanding the needs of various communities. 

‘He said not only does the programme encourage public participation among communities, but it is also an educational process as they are taught about governance issues. 

“We try and encourage people to align their agendas with what government is doing. We teach them about various issues such as the National Development Plan (NDP) and the Integrated Development Plan (IDP). It is important for communities to understand these concepts, so that they don’t complain to municipalities about services not being rendered, when in fact they are not even in the priority list of IDP’s.”

He further added that since the programme started, people are slowly becoming aware of the role of government and that they cannot just wake up today and demand some services as everything has to be budgeted for.

Under the Virtual Environment & Ecosystems project which focuses on cleaning streams and removing invasive alien plants, 49 job opportunities have been created after the department has partnered with the initiative. 

Virtual State Minister of Water & Sanitation, Nhlanhla Ndlovu said that the project will continue for the next three years and under this project there is also another programme to rehabilitate the iMbubu Mountain in Sweetwaters. 

The organisation has developed a working relationship with the UKZN Community development.