Reflecting on Youth Day


It’s Youth Day in South Africa tomorrow 16 June. It’s the day on which we commemorate the youth who stood up to the Apartheid government in 1976, raised their collective voice demanding “Equal Education” over their parents’ preferred chant: “Half a loaf is better than no bread.” It was the day they loosened the oppressive grip that Bantu Education aimed to have over young minds.  The first youth to die that day was merely 13 years old. I don’t think Hector Peterson imagined that 35 years later he would be written about as a martyr Armed only with their determination, placards and freedom songs, hundreds more youth were gunned down in the days that followed. And hundreds more in the years preceding the dismantling of Apartheid.

To remember them still hurts. They risked their lives for a future they would never see. The South Africa we are proud of today, where we experience the joy and freedom to be so very diverse – and are happy to celebrate and engage with that diversity – is the future that they died for.

Are our youth fully conscious of the enormity of that gift?

Are we, their parents?

We live in the heritage of those and other martyrs. But what is our legacy?

STEVE BIKO AND IMAM HARUN

In my work with youth, I am often disturbed by the greedy current of individualism sweeping our youth along. They are urged to study harder, to get great jobs, to attain all the trimmings and trappings of success.  When I ask them about their future, they inevitably gush about the degrees they will have, the cars they will drive one day, the designer threads they will wear, the fat salaries they will earn, the green suburbs they will live in, and the respect, status and influence that they will have through these accomplishments. This is what their teachers and parents are cheering them on to achieve, they say.

In their speaking, there is a numbness to their fellow South Africans, a deafness to the pleas of the poor, a blind faith in the fiction about what breeds satisfaction. And it saddens me…for they only echo us.

In our free and beautiful country, our communities – indeed our youth- are plagued by ills we can no longer blame our government for. Nor can we expect that the actions that erradicate these social ills must come from elsewhere. They are not ills that money and status can cure. Our youth simultaneously face the mediocrity of the rat race, low pass rates, the scourge of HIV and AIDS, unprecedented rates of teenage pregnancy and drug addiction on a community level.

In honouring the memory of Sowetan youth tomorrow, many public programs are focusing on empowering and uplifting youth from all communities to grab opportunities and reach for success. And rightly so. Our youth must succeed. But at what?

Are we empowering our youth not only to deal with the challenges they face, but to interrupt the spiral of decline? Are we getting across to them that this is their Legacy? Are we effectively communicating that with the freedom and power they have been born into, comes the unshirkable responsibility to serve, grow and lead communities that are healthy, sustainable, empowered and dignified.

youth building food tents- courtesy betterplace.org

My concern is that we are promoting education as a way to achieve a standard of living, rather than as an access to powerfully developing a way of life that will make a difference to the quality of life for all.

So as you celebrate Youth Day, I challenge you to engage with a young person about the actions WE can take to make the kind of difference we’ll be celebrating 35 years from now…

Who will be the ones we’ll be blogging about then?

Response to http://www.threewordwednesday.com using “grip”, “prefer”, “thread”

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6 Responses

  1. It is frightens when wondering how to sustain values and a vision beyond the material trappings of success. It begins in the home but how to ground it to sustainable levels is the challenge when the influences that are everywhere magnetizes and mesmerizes. My view is that we have to engage the youth in inculcating a culture of giving of oneself not only of what you have.

    • That’s definitely the access: That we are of service, contributing who we are, collaborating and co-operating with whoever else has the commitment to bring positive change and restore healthy values. Thanks for reading and taking the tie to comment.

  2. Very well written, inspiring words! I also am concerned that many youth, and adults, confuse a standard of living with a quality of living.

  3. I feel like shouting to your youth…don’t aspire to what we have accomplished with our youth in the US. Don’t follow our path…

    • Thanks for taking the time to read, Wendi. Unfortunately the trend is global and the media does play a role in setting horrible norms. But the responsibility rests with us to open a dialogue with youth in an effort to shift attitudes, elicit new approaches and new solutions. It’s great to know that I have partners like you on the other side of the world not only with the same concerns but taking action!

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