Inverting the power pyramid

2011-03-26 09:38

While many of us took time off on Human Rights Day to reflect or simply relax, a significant event took place in Cape Town.

An enormous, disciplined crowd of about 20?000 ­primary and high school children, most of them dressed neatly in their uniforms, converged on the Grand Parade.

The throng pulsed through the streets to the gates of Parliament, where its representatives hoped to hand a memorandum to ­Basic ­Education Minister Angie Motshekga and President Jacob Zuma.

The event received little local news coverage and the organisers of the march, Equal Education, charged that ignored it entirely while the SABC treated it as a minor happening attended by a “few hundred” marchers.

This is not the first time Equal ­Education has galvanised a remarkable show of youth power. In 2009, thousands marched for libraries.

On this Human Rights Day, they gathered to demand simple things for schools, such as adequate classrooms, sports fields, laboratories and computer centres.

Motshekga had previously given a written undertaking to Equal ­Education to honour the Minimum Norms and Standards for School ­Infrastructure in terms of section 5A of the Schools Act by April 1.

There is a growing sense that young people are no longer prepared to wait for adults to display the political will to ­deliver one of the cornerstones of freedom and our biggest investment in the future: a decent education.

At the moment there is this ­generalised notion, a sort of grand narrative, that the youth of this country, particularly marginalised children who live in impoverished areas, have no real investment in their future.

But the young people at the march are the antithesis of the loud, brash, materialistic and sometimes downright idiotic public face of “South African youth”.

These young South Africans are not alone.

One of the most exciting things about the 21st century is witnessing the ability of ordinary young people to see through the cynicism that props up so much of what passes for modern politics.

Much of this is thanks to the democratic and disinfecting light that comes with access to information and knowledge that has swept ashore on a tidal wave of technology.

It is this access that the pupils who marched are demanding.

The world’s youth are becoming naked citizens who are able and who have the potential to escape the myriad neat, claustrophobic little boxes constructed by ­increasingly corrupt political and economic classes to keep everyone in his or her place.

The disjuncture between what those who seek to shape and ­control our lives do and what they say is where this bold new ­consciousness is thriving.

We see some evidence of it in Tunisia, ­China, the US, Egypt and Libya.

Young South Africans, after ­decades of abnormal politics, are also beginning to engage more ­actively in their future and are ­driving social movements such as the Right2Know campaign, the Social Justice Coalition and Equal Education, to name a few.

Young writers, journalists, columnists and megatweeters like Khaya Dlanga are the new opinion- makers and interpreters of “truth”.The number of new, young ­voters who have registered for elections in May – about 150 000 in the 18- to 19-year-old bracket and 230?000 in the 20- to 29-year-old cohort – is heartening.

One of the less acknowledged ­effects of WikiLeaks has been ­exposing the disjuncture between government “diplomatic” spinspeak and realspeak, something young people understand.

The power pyramid with “leadership” concentrated at the top and supported by a broad, unquestioning base at the bottom is ­hopefully being turned on its head.It’s time for the adults in charge to start waking up.

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