If not us, then who?

CityPress - - Voices - Dineo More voices@city­press.co.za

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?

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