Troubled emblems of youth
South Africa is filled with young people who walk proudly on the shoulders of the titans of 1976 who bravely catapulted the country into the final phase of the struggle against apartheid. They include our entrepreneurs and professionals, who take their place in leadership positions, and student activists whose campaigns for Aids-fighting drugs and, more recently, for free higher education and better employment terms for outsourced workers are a huge inspiration.
But this week, it is not those young people who took centre stage. Instead, the dubious honour fell to three young men in deep trouble with the law who grabbed the headlines as South Africa took stock of the 40 years since the revolt of 1976. The stories of Oscar Pistorius, Mark Warona Zinde and Henri van Breda are all complex and different.
Pistorius has been found guilty of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Zinde and Van Breda this week began their gruelling court cases.
Zinde is charged with the murder of his journalistturned-executive mum, Hope Zinde; Van Breda with the murders of his parents, Martin and Teresa, and his brother, Rudi. He also faces an attempted murder charge of his sister, Marli, who survived the axe attack. It is important to note that Zinde and Van Breda are still facing trial and are not yet guilty of the charges they face.
What draws the three young men together? All are elites, and certainly not the struggling underclass of youth. All are deeply troubled and all three are emblematic of South Africa’s troubled relationship with interpersonal violence. We turn to violence to solve problems – this besets us across colour and class, as the three stories reveal. And it goes back to a violent and dislocating past. In that way, we may have walked four decades, but the walk away from violence is still long.
In at least two cases – those of Van Breda and Zinde – drugs are believed to have played a role, though this is not yet before court. This is another story that links young people across colour and class. Designer drugs are snorting and injecting themselves into the youthful fibre of our nation at a frightening speed. Easy to procure, evidence shows that users progress up the scale of fixes quickly and with ease.
There is no national study on drug use, and a strategy to combat the dangerous high is still in its infancy, research shows. South Africa is a young country – full of hope, full of pain.
If we want different generational exemplars, there is work to do.
MARK WARONA ZINDE
HENRI VAN BREDA