You(th) have the answers

2013-06-12 10:00

Fadzai Chitiyo reflects on how SA youth can do it for themselves.

Over the past few months, I have been intimately involved in a project to understand the values and aspirations of South African youth.

Such a task was both exciting and daunting because it called for a level of introspection I was not sure I was ready for. Locating myself within the discourse, I was confronted with an image of my “self” that I recognised was not my true self.

So many young people struggle with the challenge to see ourselves differently from our lived realities: the struggle with unemployment, the challenge of articulating our values in a globalised world that informs our culture, and the battle of ideas that goes on within higher education institutions and naturalises a capitalist ideology.

All of this gives me, and others like me, a fractured mirror to reflect on who we are.

We are given a jaded view of ourselves.

Last year, as the University of Cape Town’s SRC undergraduate academic chair, I attended the New Hope Summit, hosted by the SRC.

There, a raging debate consumed me.

After seven months in office, I attempted to articulate my role as a young student leader in Africa and the contribution I could make.

There is a sense of disillusion that I get when I question how real our impact as leaders really is.

I guess we have some impact. If these institutions were left to their own devices, the students would feel it.

Who would fight for excluded students?

Who would provide the student view on teaching and learning?

Who would argue for affordable fees?

But is this all that my role comes down to, responses to bureaucratic concerns?

The impact of that kind of leader is short-lived. But a leader whose voice and knowledge carries beyond their own understanding, whose concerns are greater than their personal space; a leader on the ground, not cooped up in the office; a leader and student who is conscious and aware of their debt to society, should be able to make an impact in society.

I have realised that there is a distinction between short-term and long-term vision.

Our youth leaders have learnt how to plan for short-term goals and to strategise around their year in office in the same way the state has changed our economic policy countless times.

We unconsciously practise an inability to articulate the future of our nation, and indeed our continent.

As the youth, we have lost the ability to think and critique those in our communities who do not represent us with integrity.

Why does this happen?

Neither the old nor the young really know what our aspirations and values should look be.

Overall, the message from the older generation is that our generation’s mandate is to unite our society, to be successful (often in monetary terms only), and to confront the challenges of building a democracy and new universities – with no real advice on how to go about doing this.

They are just as perplexed as we are.

A huge parenting or mentoring gap exists whereby the values and leadership of the older generation do little to inspire the youth to look towards the future.

On the other hand, the youth and youth leaders speak of the challenges of poverty and unemployment.

Confronted with these problems, the youth have embraced the capitalist dream of pursuing material self-interest without a second thought for the future effects it will have on their communities.

The question of values and aspirations is far from the minds of most of our young people.

Instead, the pressure to make money and to be “successful” cripples them.

If there is such a disjuncture between the two generations – a clear case of chaos, with no transfer of responsibilities – then what is the hope for the youth in Africa?

I looked at myself in the mirror and a sense of emptiness and frustration overcame me.

But, while standing in this emptiness, I understood something very significant. My self-reflection was not futile.

Not only would it assist others to understand the challenges and opportunities of this generation, it allowed me to recognise that the answer to the challenges of our time is not “out there”.

The answer is not what is reflected in the mirror of our current situation.

The answer is me looking at the mirror, me confronting the image and choosing to look beyond it.

The answer is inside you and ahead of all of us. As young leaders, we must recognise that the frustration we feel needs to be there. It must be felt.

As leaders, we may join in and spearhead campaigns, but that response alone is far too short-sighted.

Your role as a leader is to define the vision, but not to stop there.

Yours is to articulate, instruct, teach and voice the character of the alternative reality you seek.

Yours is to speak long after the campaign is gone and say where the people should go next.

And while I propose no answers yet, I have been awakened to a new understanding of what my role in society should now be.

I hope that in reading this you will also find yours.

»?Chitiyo is a postgraduate student at UCT. This article is contained in New Agenda Issue 50, Youth and Students, which is available at bookstores nationwide or on newagenda.org.za

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