Making lists is easy: scratch your head, Google around for a few hours, ask your friends, confirm your prejudices. Making a credible, compelling selection of people aged 35 and under who are truly helping to set a new agenda for South Africa is a different story — especially when you are trying not to repeat yourself.

Nine out of 10 people profiled in the Mail & Guardian's 2011 line-up of 200 Young South Africans are new to the list, which is the product of the combined talents of our in-house research team and an avid bunch of social-media contributors, who weighed in on our website, along with Facebook and Twitter.

In the end we chose them for their impact, their creativity and the resonance of their values with the project of building the South Africa that we all want to live in: vibrant, prosperous, equitable, diverse and hungry for the challenges of growth and change.

I think that excitement is reflected better than ever this year in the writing, design and photography that showcases all 200. Crucially too, we have greatly sharpened up the 200 Young South Africans website (YSA2011.mg.co.za), providing enhanced tools for them to stay in touch with each other, and with you.

We are a young democracy, that is to say, an incomplete one. We have a demographic youth bulge of unemployed and poorly educated people. The youth of South Africa are often cast in baldly negative terms, alternatively they are celebrated with uncomplicated enthusiasm.

The M&G 200 cuts through the clichés to find our most thrilling potential precisely where it emerges from a context full of challenge, bewilderment and opportunity. It is not an easy project, but it may be the one we enjoy most.
The past 20 years have marked a transition from South Africa's difficult past to a future filled with possibilities. Those possibilities have come into being as a result of the immense sacrifice of previous generations of young people, in particular the youth of 1976 and later years. These bright possibilities do not mean that the task of driving the country towards cohesiveness and progress is going to be any easier. It probably gets more difficult.

South Africa's past struggles have shown beyond doubt that significant energy is injected into our efforts for greater prosperity when young people decide to place themselves at the centre of key developments. Xstrata's support of the Mail & Guardian's 200 Young South Africans must be seen as our contribution to recognising and encouraging stronger and better leadership by the youth of our country. Brimming with fresh ideas, optimism and the radical thinking needed to achieve a step change in the affairs of the country, their role is to continue demonstrating that they are more than ready to lead various spheres of South African life.

We congratulate those selected, but, equally, encourage those who were not to keep working for a brighter future for our society.