In South Africa the month of June has, as per political ritual, become what’s know as Youth Month. That then means all the intellectuals, analysts, social commentators and the general older citizenry ‘guard’ go through their retrospective archives of memory and skillfully selective their most prized ‘historical 1976 LP’ and attempt to play for on a post-1994 ‘Hi-fi’ youth. The unfortunate result is that, although the ‘LP’ is timeless on value, it will never be heard unless it’s transformed to suit the present. The majority of these public intellectuals and analysts take great care in comparing the youth of the Cold War periods with the youth of, not only post-1994, but also post 9-11. These monthly ‘scholars’, I say monthly because it’s only in certain, politically ordained months that they air their opinions. They dedicate a lot of literature in newspapers about how divided we are today and that we are also uninvolved. There are reasons for young people’s lack of social cohesion and I will attempt to highlight some of them in this article. In February this year, during his second last State of the Nation Address, the President Thabo Mbeki quoted extensively from, the late novelist, Charles Dickens’ Tale of the two cities.
And as if the writer had the ‘Freedom Generation’ in mind when he wrote his book, the president spoke about how it’s a time of joy and sorrow equally in this country currently and I seek to highlight the dual forces, caused by inequality that plague country and its youth. Some of the reasons the youth of yesteryear were unified is probably because they, the black ones that is, had a common thread of oppression that was woven into the fabric of their lives and that, it seems, made it easier to rally them together under a banner of an organized Rebellion. It’s more efficient, a blacksmith will advice, to strike the hammer while the rod is red hot in submission and the young ones of old were comparable to a red hot rod and frustration was the hammer. The ‘Freedom Generation’ as we’ve become affectionately known are not as aligned as it would’ve liked that because the dichotomy of who shall live better in South Africa has become less about race and more of class.
CLASS AND ITS RELATIONSHIP TO POVERTY
In a recent monetary policy media briefing the Governor of the Reserve Bank Tito Mboweni told journalists that, since he was going to increase the repo rate, the rich must make decisions about whether they were going to continue eating their chicken filets or opt for the pocket friendly chicken wings. One might ask what does that have to do with the sub-heading above? Actually everything because the very reason affluent people would have to make such ‘drastic’ decisions is because the shareholders and owners of well subsidized multinational corporate entities, they (the rich) are CEOs of, are not satisfied with the turnover they make in terms of profits annually and have always been on a mission to almost certainly erase any doubt that the unproportional gaps between the upper class and the working ones are never decreased or even cease to exist. And the out come is that you have people from the privileged spheres of society and the ones from the ‘hand to mouth’ side being blamed and lambasted for not presenting a united front like those of 1976. The working class child does is not, unfortunately, concerned about preserving or living up to the standard of accidental heroics of the past as he probably views 1976 Uprisings. He’s trying to consolidate ideas of a ‘plan B’ in case his father does not come home with news of a piece job somewhere.
There’s no little, if any, common ground for credible dialogue between a young person who, as right as he may be, believes that everyone has a choice in everything they do and another who, because of a lack of options, feels he’s ‘forced’ to yield survival by means of criminality. We were all amazed as a country when our compatriots went on a barbaric rampage of killing fellow human, let alone Africans. But it’s well known that dire circumstances produce inhumane and bestial characters out of those who are marginalized and are situated and cliff hanging at the edge of an economy that has enjoyed considerable growth for the past six to seven years.
CLASS AND EDUCATION
“Madam Speaker, our theme for this year is education changes lives and communities. Education properly delivered and effectively implemented does change lives and communities for the better. The road to that better life begins with educational”. That’s an excerpt from the Education Budget vote tabled in Parliament last month by Minister Naledi Pandor. Education like the minister has said changes lives and eventually the communities with which those those lives come into contact. Education is probably the only thing that parents of poor\working class background can afford to give to their kids as an instrument of self pride and ticket out of the destitution that has come define the lives they live. The department of education has sought to aid parents aforementioned. Armed with a budget totaling R123 billion they have pledged to better the youngsters lives. As sincere as the ministry may be in its attempt there, unfortunately, exists a lion’s share of factors that will ensure that the children in both basic schooling and tertiary level do and will dropout. In fact 4,9 million have dropped out of basic school before reaching grade 7. Various factors do contribute to this problem for some it’s the fact that parents are ill and eventually die of preventable diseases amongst them HIV Aids and TB and the children have to assume the role of parenting the other siblings if they have or are orphaned. Of those who are able to persist and endure the unbearable conditions of being taught by incompetent teachers, in under resourced schools and the labour of traveling long distances to school, the greatest challenge for them arises when they have to compete with student who went to private financed schools.
Such students are taught the basic of their particular field of study in grade 10 and by the time they reach university there’s little trouble in them grasping the demanding work load of tertiary. All this possible because quality education requires a lot of finance something the poor\working class lack. The source of such inequality is made manifest by Classism which rudely decides who shall graduate and shall be another dropout statistic. Information is another critical point that Classism decides who shall have access to it and who will be left behind. In an age where information is so paramount to our development it is no doubt a crime against humanity for information or its access to be placed far away from those who seek it most: the disadvantaged. It’s a fact that the most valuable thing tend to pricy, it would therefore inform us that the cheapest of things aren’t the most worthwhile.
This is how that relates to information accessibility. Say a youth who, everyday, reads South Africa’s biggest selling daily which is of cause Daily Sun wishes to access to more know how regarding the daily operation and performances of the JSE for instance, he can’t while reading his usually cheaper daily because such a market was not made for Daily Sun by its publishers. Probably one of the best informative papers regarding the JSE is Business Day which will set him back financially and needless to say he can’t from his own means access the critical information he needs. Similar situations confront disadvantaged children with regards to libraries. The most well equipped libraries, with the exception of Jabavu community library in Soweto, are found in the metropolitans of the country and not in the townships where the majority of the population need them and we wonder why the reading culture and literacy levels are so pathetic amongst poor societies.
EMPLOYMENT SCARCITY AND AS A YOUTH DIVIDER
According to Mariam Altman of the Human Science Research Council about 430 000 young people with matric or less enter the job sector and there, apparently, exists a less than 50 per cent of a black school leaver to be employed at the age of 24. The scarcity of employment is probably the fundamental contributor to a lack of cohesion amongst young people of this country. More so because the employment sector has criterions that may be political, but have to be met non-the less. The issue of affirmative action is very thorny in South Africa and fuels a lot of resentment from the previous advantaged communities of the country. The young white males especially are asking whether apartheid was their doing and why should they shoulder the blame for policies they didn’t create? But didn’t they benefit from those policies? In the mean time there’s a minority of black people (Africans, Coloureds, Indians and most recently included in the definition the Chinese) who think their skin colour will do wonders of getting them employed without any efforts from them. And some have even been employed based on their race rather than looking at their capability first and then applying the affirmative action quotas.
It’s those black people who give resentful young whites some leverage points against affirmative actions which has or ought to have bona fide intension of repairing injustices of the past. The employment divide so critical because at the heart of it is the very means of survival for those who aren’t employed it means an unfavorable quality of life which in most cases mutates into poverty. Unfortunately if these divides are not promptly attended to there’ll always exist factions within the greater youth strata of South Africa. The ‘Freedom Generation’ will, it seems, be remember as a generation who were at odds with each other because of at least differing class interests and aspirations Dickens’ Tale of the two cities the president was quoting from will characterize of our definition. To the public intellectuals who refuse to ‘modernize’ their cherished 1976 Uprising ‘LP’ so that it can be played in ‘Mp3/4’ format of the present times, I’m sorry to say but the young ones are not going worthwhile. Lastly to the children who are born into privileged families please don’t be apologetic for things you didn’t have control over, instead be thankful for those privileges because poverty isn’t an admirable thing to be in.