I, like many of my contemporaries, am a child of the 90s in a sense that I was born in the 1980s but got schooled largely by influences of the 1990s and all that came with that decade. A decade whose advent was preceded by amongst others the end of a long and bitter Cold War between the United States of America(Capitalism) and United Soviet Socialist Republic(Communism). A war that had far reaching implications for much of developing nations of the world then referred to as third world. I’d be lying if I said I saw the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 but I remember the buzz caused by the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the subsequent demise of the National Party’s Apartheid regime in 1994. It has always been said that those of us who weren’t born when the winds of change were sweeping across the south east Asia and Africa, when student activism rendered campuses ungovernable, when Gill Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” was the soundtrack of people ready to die in pursuit of a better tomorrow, know nothing of about life.
It’s what I may call the “Waar was jy?” phenomenon, just to quote the 1990s kwaito group Skeem. In fact, it’s on this phenomenon that preceding generations usually want to accentuate their generation’s collective contribution to the development of civilization while down playing, and sometimes trivializing, anything that was produced by a succeeding generation. When a member of an older generation asks where a younger counterpart was when Miles Davis was changing jazz music with his critically acclaimed Kind Of Blue, it’s a rhetorical question whose intention seeks to say the latter, unlike the former, missed history in the making. We hear such assertions by older people all the time when they critique the contributions of younger ones who, at that time, are in the most revered and glorified period in a human’s life: in their prime. Everyone would like to think that things were at their grandest when they were the centre of attention, when they were one with the phenomenon that was challenging stagnant ideas with the intention of being the pathfinders to more modern and efficient was of doing things. My generation both nationally and globally has been at the receiving end of a lot bitter criticism from the older guard. We are constantly told we are lost and at times beyond redemption but I think that’s subjective talk. It is true that from our generation won’t emerge a Nelson Mandela; Enersto “Che” Guevara; Chairman Mao; Pablo Picasso; Miriam Makeba; Adolf Hitler (thankfully) and the like. And quite frankly why should there? The aforementioned distinguished people were products of an entirely different world from that which created the circumstance from which our conduct respond to today. The Drum Generation, regarded as the golden period of artistic and literary creativity in South Africa, which comprised of the Prof Eskia Mphahlele; Todd Matshikiza; Kippies Moeketsi; Can Temba; Dolly Rathebe; Dorothy Masuku along with an entire galaxy of artists, journalists and writers, can’t be rehashed just so our generation can be mentioned in the same sentence as that legendary generation. In doing so wouldn’t we be reinventing the wheel and thereby losing the distinction of originality that those who inherit our contribution may find useful?
The same “Waar was jy?” also finds itself in debates about sports. It’s not uncommon for older people ask us where we were when Brazil’s Pele was tormenting defenders and winning the world cup at 17 years or when Mohammed Ali was rumbling in the jungle against George Foreman, needless to say I wasn’t there. Neither did I witness an Argentine named Diego Maradona make the footballing world take notice of him when he singlehandedly(pun intended) won his country the world cup in Mexico ’86. But I will say I saw Zinadine Zidane’s trickery; Ronaldo(the Brazilan) goal peerless goal pouching abilities; I will speak of Floyd Mayweather’s loss less boxing record and how FC Barcelona’s footballing style captivated us and won the Spanish national team its maiden world cup. The likes of Boris Becker, Martina Navratilova, Stephey Graff and Pete Sampres of the world are held in the highest esteem by many tennis followers and some believed that their efforts couldn’t be matched but the emergence of Venus and Serina Willams, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer has changed that. Sir Isaac Vivian Richards of the all conquering West Indies cricket team of the 70s and Sir Donald George Bradman of Australia with an enviable average of 98 percent were known as the greatest batsmen in cricketing history. But along came a humble Sanchin Tendulkar from Mumbia and batted his way in cricketing folklore. He has the most runs; has the most centuries in both test and one day internationals cricket and when combined his centuries tally up to 97 and with the form India are in in this world cup he may just add more. The Ricky Pontings and Jacque Kallis’ of the world have also cemented their deeds in the memories of my generation.
It’s true that some deeds by people of older generations have overshadowed those who inherit them especially those who are searching for an atavism of some sort. Nothing spawns from thin air. Something owes its existence to something else. There’s always a linage that can be traced that explains how something came to be the way it is. It’s the same with generational contributions to the development of human civilization. Those who concern themselves with the origins of what came to be known as jazz music say it began with enslaved African Americans singing in the cotton fields and that gave birth to the blues and so the trajectory continued. Some, like the Jazz Liberators, see hip hop as an extension of that tradition. The kwaito music of the 90s was a language of the young people of the day expressing their hopes and angst and as to whether or not it was undesirable is another matter and it has to be viewed in that context. I, like my preceding generation, will have my tales to share with the younger ones who will succeed me. I will tell them of how facebook and twitter and other social media connected the world like never before. I will tell them of how BRICSA nations changed the geopolitical scene. I will mention the symbolism of Barack Obama, the 1994 elections, the revolutions in North Africa, I will mention the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, I will mention the introduction mobile phones, the quakes in Haiti, the floods in Pakistan, Mozambique and Indonesia; HIV AIDS ; I will mention the music, books and films that were read by my generation. I will tell that my generation didn’t have a Hugh Masikela but had a Feya Faku; it didn’t have a John Kani but a James Ngcobo; it didn’t have a The Rolling Stones but it a U2; it didn’t have Run DMC but a The Roots; it didn’t a The God Father trilogy but had a The Matrix trilogy; it didn’t have black and white televisions but had plasma, HD and 3D television; Google; digital libraries. I will also say the one thing every generation has in common with others is the thinking that “my generation is the generation”.