The human experience is, by its very nature, a product of historical creation, manipulations and desires. In that many a time our experience during our lifetimes are a result of another’s conduct or lack thereof, whether to the benefit or detriment of those who will inhabit the earth in future. In South Africa there seems to be a narrow and largely pernicious manner of packaging and reading certain moments in our past. The ‘Class of 1976’ Students Uprisings is such a case of narrow documentation of history. Granted, the Students Uprisings which culminated in the most brutal expression of Apartheid might, was a tipping point in our country. But can it be honestly said that every young person from those days was a political participant especially on the actual 16th of June, which is what is always claimed by the ‘1976 Generation’?
The misreading of the Apartheid South African experience is, more often than not, presented as a period where people did not breathe like we do today, did not drink alcohol abusively, did not engage in sexual promiscuity and rebel against the more traditional and conservative norms living as is the case with young people at any stage in human life. So why is there a constant with the addiction with the crucifixion of today’s youth? One is not implying that life was a walk in the park, it has never been and never will be regardless of a the presence or absence of a racist and prejudiced government. And I’m not trying to diminish, downplay and ridicule the seriousness of the political struggle of yesteryear. All I’m pointing to is the fact that when we insulate and divorce, for a moment, the political subjugation the ’76 Generation and those who preceded them. We will probably find that they, too, were not so saintly in their daily operations. We will find that some of the most shameful and ignominious behaviours happened in that period. Teenage pregnancy did not a fertile ground during Nelson Mandela’s tenure of presidency neither did thuggery and gangstersim and all forms of social decay. It must, however, be acknowledged by my peers that the velocity at which these forms of degeneration are taking is quite alarming and a cause for concern.
The fact that the greater chunk of our history was always married to political power, it seems to have given the older people of our land an opportunity to pompously parade themselves as the heroes who fought and lived to tell the tale of their golden days. I understand that the sacrifices that were made in order for me and my generation to enjoy a better life was colossal. But the older people must also concede that they were also concerned with improving their own well being during their lifetime. If given an opportunity to be young once more and particularly at this juncture of our country, I think they would probably be unhesitant in doing so. Who does not want to be a young person in a constitutionally underpinned democracy, where you do not have any restrictions and do not have to produce a discriminatory document every time you interface with law enforcement officers.
It must be made known that being a young person in this country also has its demands. And the challenges which continue to test our resolve and determination are not to be minimized just because they do not require us to take up arms, even though some youth leaders have vowed to take up arms and kill for other campaigns. We, the so called ‘Freedom Generation’, have to solve the inherited baggage of inequality and unfair distribution of resources, which are already scarce. The contrasting lifestyle of the different class present us with a formidable task of trying to close the gap between the privileged and the destitute. And if this task is left unattended to, it will be the perennial source of the deterioration of our social fabric.
Unemployment is another challenge that starkly faces myself and my peers. If jobs are not available for people to earn a decent living, people who are not catered for will find alternative means of survival. And many a time such alternative means involve unlawful conduct, which then lands a lot of young people in prisons. As it is there seems to be more young people in prison than there are attending school. What does that do for a nation trying to shake off the effects of prejudiced, absolutely nothing! HIV AIDS is the most devastating and threatening to any steps and gains made to better this country. Here is a disease that was whose first reported case occurred 28 years ago, but has grown much to our detriment. It cuts across all races, genders and most alarmingly across of ages. From infants to the most grey haired of our community. HIV AIDS does as it pleases because we let it do, especially amongst my peers. The fact that the most infected people are between the ages 15 – 38, essentially means that we could have a generation loss. Generation loss in a sense that there could be a void of effective contributions from our generation because many of us will be buried as a result of HIV AIDS and any advancement on our part would be lacking. It seems that we do not fully appreciate the costs involved in caring a one patient who is infected with this disease and much more money is used when the person infected was a breadwinner. Even more costs must be used for the affected family members, which are usually children who must be given food parcels which are merely basics that do not go a very long way in easing the burden of their lives. Every child who drops out of school because he/she has to care for ill parents is a disservice that will eventually cost us in future. And every young person who drops out of tertiary because he/she has been infected with HIV is a deprivation of students who will follow him/her more especially if that student’s studies are financed by the State. Who will have to foot the bill of costs of tertiary education when the person in whose name they were incurred is no more? The more we begin to see ourselves as generational contributors to our community, district, region, province, country and indeed continent the better we will see the change we want to effect. But if we act selfishly then slaves to our irresponsibly made choices we will remain.
There are bitter and sweet aspect about being young. The preceding generations must also concede that the social degeneration in South Africa is a historical problem and has only peaked at this point in time. I reject the label of ‘lost generation’. If we are indeed the ‘lost generation’ that means we have been following an equally lost preceding people. The changes that occurred in our country at the ‘dawn’ of liberty were too radical and our political leadership was caught off guard on many things that we allowed to pass through into our societies. Perhaps most of them were given the green light because the newly elected leadership wanted to show the nation and the greater world that it was a total departure from the undemocratic regime of the past. And by so doing a lot of destructive thing interfaced with a nation that was still trying to figure its self out.
The commemoration of Youth Day is still on the basis of race. The apathy by the white youth and their self imposed isolation has not helped the cause at all. As young people we need to inculcate into our minds that the world owes us nothing. If we want thing to happen for us, we must begin to associate passion with action. We did not have a choice in being born, but we certainly have a choice as to how will best contribute to the well being of this country. We are not the first group of young people in this country, but we are the first group of youth of the democratic dispensation and as such we have a duty and are compelled to act with diligence and commitment of a better South Africa. Prince Mashele, the public intellectual, wrote the following of young people’s contribution to South Africa: “ I raise these concerns not simply to be provocative, but because no one is better placed than our brightest young leaders to bridge the chasm in our society and because you have an immediate responsibility to halt our country’s slide into hopelessness’’.
Our deeds are in isolation from any other particular generation that has graced this country and we must remain mindful of that in our everyday conduct. I am a product of history, so let history study and concern itself with the ‘Freedom Child’ but at the epilogue of my generation’s review let history write that I blatantly refused to be Hector Peterson’s second chance.