The forgotten generation

2009-06-18 00:00

AS South Africans celebrate the 33rd anniversary of the Soweto uprising this month, the reality facing millions of young people can no longer be ignored. Scores of young people are wallowing in alcohol, drugs and unprotected sexual escapades, and most of them are unemployed.

Lack of skills among the youth is an unavoidable reality, so is HIV/Aids which is eating away at our future leaders. The youth is vulnerable and in the past 15 years of democracy one can be forgiven for saying that this age bracket of our population has been somewhat neglected.

Encouraging young people to hold soccer tournaments, fun runs and cultural events in their communities, and talent shows where they showcase their hip-hop skills and the latest American dance moves during Youth Month does not do much to stand them in good stead in these trying times.

Youth Month is just about the only time young people are cheered on and persuaded to be all that they can be. The youth who revolted against being taught in Afrikaans in 1976 and died for their stance paved the way for the youth of today to have choices. But the youth of today has a choice to either sit at home unemployed or become criminals trying to make a living by robbing people’s houses, snatching our grandmothers’ bags and breaking into cars other citizens worked hard for.

Young South Africans in the 21st century are demoralised, partly because little attention is paid to them. Few are living their dreams. The aim of President Jacob Zuma to create half-a-million jobs by the end of the year should prioritise young people. But young people must get themselves out of the quagmires they are in. Zuma’s strong belief in education should be a positive sign for young people that, after a long time, their wellbeing is being considered.

The establishment of a Higher Education Department should be seen as a sign that the government is taking their cries seriously. The youth, especially those from the rural areas and townships, struggle to get into tertiary institutions due to lack of money and end up in dead-end jobs, if they are lucky, with little chance of continuing with their education. Others resort to criminal activities and end up in jail.

They are not faced with the same travesties our parents were faced with when they were our age. The world has evolved since then and the global community created as a result has sparked the imagination of the youth. We are not lost but merely forgotten.

The leaders of youth organisations, who are supposed to be their voices, do not represent their interests. If they are not making disrespectful utterances or calling for their leaders to step down in a cowardly manner, our youth leaders are non-existent. They only surface during Youth Month to claim to be ambassadors of the 1976 generation, talking about nation building and the rise of young people without indicating how this will be done or whether the youth was consulted.

Young people made up the largest number of voters in the April 22 elections, signalling a desire for change in their lives. The various government departments should refrain from dealing with them as if they are a social responsibility programme.

The Fifa 2010 Soccer World Cup is less than a year away and not all young people can benefit from this. Some do not like sport.

Rather, each department should have an office dedicated to empowering youth, not just paying lip service to this. This mandate should filter down to the local government tier so that even the youth in the rural areas and townships can start enjoying the fruits of democracy.

It is time for their voices to be heard. Young people are no longer the “lost generation”. What’s lost to them is support from grown-ups and government.

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