So how often have you heard your parents say something negative about the nature of young people today? About how lazy or unmotivated we are? Every time my mom puts on the TV and sees Julius Malema making some outlandish statement, I suddenly feel the need to take on the role of “defender of the young”! It’s as though I have to restore her faith in us and remind her that her mother said the same thing about her generation when she was young. The only major difference is that my mother comes from the generation of Hector Peterson and Steve Biko. Her peers changed the political system of SA and gave us suburbia and access to Melrose Arch; while we, are “ungrateful” and “apathetic” and basically forgetful of what it took to get us here. When my mother sees young people today, she sees three types of young people. First there are the bubble-dress or pink shirts, pointy shoe- wearing young people of Newscafé. The young women who drink with men old enough to be their fathers and the young men whose vanity has made them distant from their families and are consumed by get-to-the-top-NOW BEE deals. It’s safe to assume that most of these young people have graduated from somewhere within the commerce faculty. They went to the UCTs and WITs and wear their 2% status as a label on their collars. These are the young people who are ambitious but drowning in debt.
They are aware of what it takes to live “the good life” and pursue it with a hunger that (I think) should be quite commendable, even though it is at times misguided. Then she sees the back-pack-carrying, all-star-wearing, turban-wrapping, joint-rolling artists of Newtown. These are the young soul sistas and brothas who carry the weight of the world on their backs and in their books. They can “see through” the “propaganda” of the “system” and seek to emancipate our minds. They are the ones who have dropped out of tertiary because they are tired of being “brainwashed” and cannot stand the materialistic nature of the world but ironically are the ones who carry the latest cameras and digital equipment because they understand that we need to start documenting our own history
as a people. And thirdly, my mother sees the politically active ones. The young Malema followers who know the ins and outs of South African history better than everyone in Luthuli House combined. These are the ones who run for SRC, encourage their peers to vote and direct so much of their energies towards fighting the inequalities of society and seeking economic freedom for all, that they lose track of time and soon realise that they have spend eight years on a bachelor’s degree.
These young people also want to be able to afford Newscafé, and can see how the system is intent on holding them down. They fight for everyone, because “injury to one is injury to all”. And what troubles my mother (as it should), is that the only one who is actually willing to study seems to her la vide loco-loving son who she barely gets to see because he works 16hours a day to pay off his maxed out credit card. I can only imagine how scary it must be to be a parent today. To be the mother who loses her child to Taboo and finds herself having a relationship with her son’s voicemail. When all of a sudden she has to make an appointment to see him and the only calls she gets are on Mother’s Day, Christmas and her birthday. Naturally, she worries that her daughter will waste away on the pavements of Newtown with a book full of stories and no food (or shampoo) because her little girl’s so busy explaining how everyone should fight the “system”, she hasn’t realised that the delete button is somewhere at the top. And what of the poor mother who spends sleepless nights worried that her poor baby (poor being the operative word) will fight for everyone’s freedom except his own? That he will get everyone else academically or financially UN-excluded; only to fall victim to the same fate because he forgot what he was originally sent there to do. But you know what? I am TIRED of hearing it!! Honestly I am!! Sure, there’s plenty of room for improvement and I think we do need to examine ourselves as young people, but I’m not completely sure that this is not just a case of the apple not falling too far from the tree. I mean, it’s our fathers who are sugar-daddies, Mzwakhe Mbuli is a broke drunk and Zuma doesn’t have a degree but he is president. Oooh, it would be so easy for me to go down this road right now. We can blame our parents for the way they brought us up and for being bad examples, but what good would that do? Not much really.
Because it wouldn’t change the fact that we are slipping down the same path and WE are the ones our actions will hurt the most. If we can’t be balanced human beings, then we will fall short of our own glory. The truth is, most often than not, youth is wasted on the young. We have all this energy and zeal for life, but often we lack direction… and balance. So those too busy enjoying and being trapped by the cycle of credit will burn out. The story-tellers who think they exist outside the system will become forgotten and the naive revolutionaries will become bitter and disheartened. The thing is there is nothing wrong with wanting to have it all! We deserve it. Our parents fought for it. Why the heck not?! So as we enter Youth Month, perhaps it’s time we blocked out those critics’ voices and started taking charge of the truths within our own lives. We need to carve out our own little spots in society and be smart about things. If you can walk in those pointy shoes and want to live that fast life and drive that fast car, then budget and balance! Budget your finances so you don’t spend your whole pay-check paying off a credit card that you are going to end up maxing out all over again anyways.
Balance your time at work, with your friends and with your family… you can have it all. If you have been blessed with the gift of translating life into art, then let your art be your bread. Know that you do not exist in an island so you have to eat and make money. Hone your art, perfect it and let it be your sustenance. Finish studying – even if it is just so you can expose the lies in those text books – be professional about it… how great it is to find your passion and let that be what gets you through from day to day. And if your calling is fighting for change: get to know your enemy. The tertiary institution is a complex monster; graduate (so your peers can believe it is possible), don’t lose sight of the struggle and be better than the politician who failed you…. School is a tool, not a maze. I think we all need to be holistic in our approaches. Feed the mind body and soul: get our spiritual footing; be healthy; study; and vote. We need to realise that we are all connected and though certain aspects are amplified in others, we are ALL beautifully human. Spiritual, mental and emotional poverty have NO place in youth. Emancipate!