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Young councillors return wiser Print E-mail
04 November 2008

The Joburg representatives show their colours

A trip to the United States proved to be a steep learning curve for Joburg's student councillors, who discovered there was more to the superpower than hip-hop music and movies.

Outside the headquarters of media giant CNN
Outside the headquarters of media giant CNN

JOBURG'S young councillors are back from a two-week visit to Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States, and they say, "America is not as superficial as television would like us to believe."

"Before this trip, I used to think that America was all about weaves, hip-hop music and gangster life but now I know that the place has ... history," said Shana-Michelle Rabonda, one of the councillors.

For some, this was their first trip overseas. "This was a wonderful opportunity for me and I have learned so much," said Junior Mayor Charmaine Motene. "The visit also helped me to get rid of some of the stereotypes I had about that place."

Motene wants to study political law. "There is not much difference between South Africa and America, but I have noticed that our and their politics are totally different. In the States everyone is involved but here most of the young people think that politics is for adults."

Boris Dobrijevic was full of enthusiasm. "Words alone will not do justice in expressing how amazing this visit was ... I will always be grateful to the Speaker's Office for such a wonderful opportunity."

While in the US, the youngsters visited the CNN Centre, headquarters of the news broadcaster, one of the world's most famous and biggest. There they met TJ Holmes, CNN's weekend news anchor.

Community work
Guests of the youth commission of Fulton County, in Atlanta, the Joburg councillors and their American hosts rolled up their sleeves to do community work. They joined in a community upliftment project aimed at providing entertainment and refreshments for underprivileged families and those living in shelters for the homeless.

"The fulfilling experience of giving back to people less fortunate than ourselves was rewarding and was a humbling experience," Motene said. "The appreciation of the children was expressed through their smiles of satisfaction."

On day five, the two groups explored a range of issues, including HIV/Aids, the importance of a global youth leadership programme and the 2010 World Cup.

Day six was set aside for a trip to Birmingham, Alabama to tour the Civil Rights Museum and the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four girls were killed in a bombing by the racist Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s. At the museum they learned about the role Dr Martin Luther King played in the American civil rights movement.

"It felt like we were walking down the corridors of the Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill," Motene explained. "The faces captured in those photos were of those who fought for equality in America, like those who were led by Nelson Mandela."

With election campaigns in full swing, they visited the Republicans and Democrats offices in Georgia. At the Republican office, they had a debate about the global financial crisis, and the war in Iraq and how it related to the 9/11 attacks.

The welcoming committee
The welcoming committee

As well as discussing issues, at the Democrat office they were given T-shirts and posters featuring Barack Obama, the Democrat presidential candidate.

"We also learned that their voting process is pretty much the same as ours but the only difference is that in America, the public vote for the person they want to see occupy the presidential seat, not an organisation," explained Motene.

Other places that the learners visited included the graves of Dr King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, Apex Museum, which exhibits African-American inventions, the history of slavery and the beginning of African civilisation, the Georgia Aquarium and the Atlantic Station, a shopping and business mall.

The visit was part of an exchange programme between the City of Johannesburg and Fulton County.

To be considered for participation, the students had to make written submissions and undergo interviews. Only six were chosen from this selection process, with the junior mayor and junior Speaker qualifying automatically by virtue of their positions.

It followed a visit to Johannesburg by young Fulton County commissioners in July.

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Last Updated on 10 January 2013