If not us, then who?
While waiting to collect a coat at the dry cleaner’s last week, I saw several people bring their school blazers in to be cleaned. At the local supermarket, many people were purchasing black shoe polish. Back to school? Not at all. It is that time of year when we wear the faded school uniforms of our teenage years to work in commemoration of the resistance and resilience of the youth of 1976.
Your little brother pleads with you to remain in the car when you drop him off at school, for fear of embarrassment in front of Jared and Scotty. Today, for the first time since working at The Investment Firm, instead of your barely audible “Good morning”, you confidently say “Sawubona” to the cleaning staff, dressed in their borrowed Vul’indlela Secondary School uniforms. That annoying colleague asks you why you’re wearing a uniform. You shrug, smile sheepishly, and say something vague about uprisings in Soweto, regretting that you wore your prestigious school’s uniform to work.
In the sewer-ments – I mean settlements, better known as townships – it is a different scene. Youngsters finalise plans for wild parties. Public areas are filled with the youth our beloved elders call “the future presidents of South Africa”.
Dressed in their school uniforms, green bottles in hand, fragile bodies lean out of taxi windows, slurring songs from the struggle they know little about, while the corporate snob looks on, checking that her Audi A1 is locked as both vehicles stop at an intersection. The two narratives are two sides of a double-edged sword, slicing through the atrocities faced by the youth in our current socioeconomic and cultural landscape. The corporate coconut snob, having slipped through the dreaded unemployment crack, is celebrating her meagre job – an opportunity thousands her age aren’t afforded. The youth are celebrating the disillusioned idea of being “born free”. “Rainbow nation”; “access”. Blah, blah, blah. More like (mis)education; dystopia.
We are lost. We have reduced an important part of our political history to a mockery, screaming sidl’ubusha bethu (we are enjoying our youth, or, directly translated, we are eating our youth). How ironic.
We have forgotten. Or worse, we have not learnt. Neither through our “transformative” educational institutions, nor through those who have gone before us, who faced the very issues we are facing. What a shame.
Youngsters have always been a vital voice in our country’s liberation struggle. Globally and locally, we can name some of the most influential: Jomo Kenyatta, Lilian Ngoyi, Malcolm X, Steve Biko, the youth of 1956, the youth of 1976 and now the millennials.
We need to adjust the lens though which we see our legacy. We need to take our rightful position in society and, through our creative innovations and resilience, usher in the change we want. We ought to teach our children self-love, as well as a coherent and honest perspective of their history and heritage. We have a great responsibility.
We cannot yield to obsolete political dogma, the Instagram tenderpreneur image of success or a leadership that fails to recognise the issues surrounding our youth. We cannot survive on their “hope” that we are the future.
Biko once said: “Courage is contagious.” It is in the time of struggle that heroes are born. We must create opportunities for ourselves. The gold we must seek is the intellectual capital to empower ourselves. You are entering a world of prejudgement, but you can still redefine yourself. A luta continua.
More is a budding architect and creative
The civil section of the Welkom magistrates’ office celebrates Youth Day. We can wear our old school uniforms to work to show solidarity with the youth of 1976, but do we really understand their legacy?