Of the thousands of words I write a year, these are the ones that give me the most pleasure. The Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans is now in its 9th year, and every year the entrants get younger and younger. Oh, wait, that’s just me getting older. Okay, so they’re still all roughly the same age, but for some reason they seem as if they’re getting younger. And I think that’s because the nature of what it means to be young, courageous, optimistic and brimming with talent has changed over the last few years. Although, having said that, I see we have people as young as 11 in our line-up, which is hugely encouraging, but also a little alarming. Many of the people on this list appear to be people who make things work, using whatever is made available to them. Their common characteristic is not that they’re ‘young’, whatever that invidious word may mean, but that they’re all irrevocably of our present. They’re people who can do whatever they put their mind to, using the tools and opportunities granted to us by the technology-driven era we find ourselves inhabiting, and who can switch interests and impetus whenever they see the need. They’re also – and I hesitate to use this word, because, frankly, it makes me as nauseous as you when I hear it thrown around – inspiring. I apologise for the word, reeking as it does of do-gooders, self-acclaimed gurus, and Instagram feeds with breast-feeding puppies at sunset, but dammit, they are inspiring. I don’t mean they inspire us to be better people, although I suppose that could happen. I mean they inspire us to do stuff that’s out of the ordinary, even if it’s based on the ordinary. For example, Kobus van der Merwe, the incredible chef at Oep ve Koep, once inspired me to drive almost 800km in two days, just to have lunch at his restaurant two days in a row. He doesn’t know this, he just makes food. Nakhane Touré inspired me, and people on the M&G team, to rethink some of the ways we cover music on the M&G. He doesn’t know this, he just makes music. I could give more examples, but you get the point – our 200 Young South Africans inspire us by what they create, not by what they say. Actually, let me give one more example. Patrick Dakwa, who just decided to become a traditional nurse, and now he saves lives. You can’t get a more simple trajectory than that. You see something that needs doing, so you do it. A selection of the M&G’s 200 Young South Africans is available in print, but the entire 200 profiles are available on the web at ysa2014.mg.co.za, and in a beautiful free tablet app, available on iStore, Google Play and the Amazon App Store. We like to think this mirrors the changing nature of our 200 Young, from people who require a memento to keep in the cupboard, to people who want to carry their data around with them in case they need to use it.
Chris Roper, Editor-in-chief Mail & Guardian