The youth must stand up and be counted

2013-06-05 10:00

South Africa is a democracy today because of the radicalism of the youth of the 1940s, and the sacrifices of the youth of 1976.

Many leaders, like Nelson Mandela, made their impact during their youth, and their enduring values have changed the world.

The biggest challenge facing young people in South Africa today is that they will inherit the land.

But how well-prepared are they to emulate the courage of a youthful John Dube who, hardly in his thirties, had built a school in 1900, which still stands today; and who started a newspaper in 1903, which is still going.

Many more examples of youthful determination can be made. For Christians, Jesus was 30 when he fully engaged on his mission. But at 12, he was already arguing with the most educated in the temple.

Karl Marx was 26 when he wrote the Communist Manifesto, Vladimir Lenin was 33 when he led the Russian Revolution.

Dube was 16 when he boarded a ship to the US – a country he did not know. Pixley ka Isaka Seme was 24 when he wrote his The Regeneration of Africa, on which most thinking around the African Renaissance is based.

Mandela and OR Tambo were 32 and 31, respectively, when they spearheaded the anti-apartheid programme of action in 1949. Most of all, all of them valued education as the foundation for future action and success.

Often, we worry that our youth are taken in by the culture of materialism, more than seeking humanity, ubuntu, and the upliftment of the poor and those less fortunate.

We get worried when our youth today are involved in opulence such as the subculture called izikhothane.

We get worried when, instead of getting on with the work whose foundations were laid by young people of the past in creating a nonracial, nonsexist democratic and united South Africa, we see subcultures of ostentatious displays of personal wealth by young people.

Regardless of the method of acquisition, this includes wearing expensive designer clothes, and even burning them, as izikhothane are reputed to do; driving expensive cars; and organising expensive parties whose unstated aim is to show off wealth.

We recall that the World Festival of Youth and Students was first organised by the World Federation of Democratic Youth and the International Union of Students in the wake of World War 2 in the 1940s.

It was a reaction to the horror and gross human rights violations and environmental depletion caused by the war.

The youth took a collective decision to organise themselves, globally against international aggression and its destruction, advocating a world of peace, security, stability and prosperity.

They denounced imperialism as one of the forces of control, domination, and political and economic oppression in the world.

That great generation gave their today for our tomorrow. They knew war, poverty and unemployment first-hand.

They believed in hard work, and in saving to make a down payment on a home. They ate what they planted or slaughtered and lived within their means.

The threats they faced were real, immediate, overwhelming and inescapable.

But the locust generation that followed them consumed everything, without producing anything.

They did not even maintain what they found, and allowed it to deteriorate in front of their eyes without a twinge of conscience or guilt. Indeed, destruction became heroic.

Then the next generation believed in themselves, saw what had been lost or wasted, and started the process of regeneration, building all over, block by block.

They built lasting structures that reminded many future generations about the nature and value of their inheritance. They reinvented lost democratic values and walked in the footsteps of the great generation before them.

We have it in ourselves to regenerate ourselves.

The novelty of access to opportunity, which was denied to the majority, gave us a sense of arrival instead of the reality of a genuine beginning. Embarking on this regeneration will be with the heavy knowledge of lost time.

That lost time should make us want to run, while others only walk.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said: “Today we have the largest generation of young people the world has ever known. They are demanding their rights and a greater voice in economic and political life.

“We need to pull the UN system together like never before to support a new social contract of job-rich economic growth. Let us start with young people.”

In the words of Kofi Annan: “No one is born a good citizen. No nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline.”

Can you all say with confidence: “We are the people we have been waiting for. There is no one else. There is no other time. It is us and it is now.”

» Ndebele is the minister of correctional services

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