The F-word: In defence of the activism of youth

2011-07-09 10:12

The youth league has spoken. Predictably, they have been dismissed as a bunch of daydreaming loudmouths.

That may very well be. However, I am more interested in the subtext of how youth and student organisations are generally treated, especially by the chattering classes, both black and white.

Many of those who dismiss members of the youth and student movement do so for self-important reasons. They dismiss youngsters for their poor English, diction and failure to fully grasp complex political and economic theory.

Others think that student political activists are just anarchists who are out to be disruptive because they are too thick to handle school or are ravaged by cruel adolescent hormones.

It is a nonsensical conclusion, often based on class and racist prejudice.

Student and youth political organisations speak to the societies that produce them. They are the first activist training grounds for youth who will grow up to engage critically with their society.

Those of us who spent our youth in these formations did so because we refused to accept that it was our bad luck that we were born on the margins of an otherwise prospering society.

Certainly, we overinterpreted Karl Marx, Lenin, Steve Biko or Robert Sobukwe in many cases and oversimplified complex issues or got them completely wrong. But we learnt a valuable lesson from the youth/student political movement – that one could not be too young to leave an unjust society unchallenged.

That we are still among the most unequal societies in the world means that the reasons why the likes of Anton Lembede first organised youth for political change in the 1940s are still relevant today.

Student and youth movements were and are not perfect. They are led and followed by idealists. But which youthful organisation is not idealistic?

It is also true and unfortunate that often these organisations seduce youngsters who then spend too much time in organisational activities at the expense of their education, causing many either to drop out or take longer than necessary to finish their education. But that does not make them irrelevant or superfluous.

Yes, many of us who grew up in these spaces say “deter-mine” instead of “determn”, as those who went to better schools than us would say, but that does not mean we were buffoons.

If anything, it reflects the injustice of being taught by teachers who themselves acquired an education that made them unable to correct wrongs in our Benny and Betty miseducation.

Contrary to the impression held by those with “perfect” accents who always know which preposition to use, student and youth movements attracted the hardest-working and most conscious learners and youngsters.

They refused to accept that just because they were marginally better off and therefore more likely to benefit from the skewed society, they ought not to care about the quality of the education they got and life they lived.

They became the true heirs of the spirit of June 16 1976. They are a reminder that one cannot be too young to raise one’s voice against injustice.

They set the agenda because those elected to lead, like President Jacob Zuma, have shirked their responsibilities and choose to lead from behind.

So instead of ridiculing these organisations just because their leaders do not have the oratory skills of Barack Obama, it would be more useful to recognise them as potential partners in tackling the ills that affect young people in and outside schools and universities – problems like drug abuse and teen parenthood – and harness this sense of social activism to change society for the better.

We would have preferred to have spent our teenage years differently. We cannot now sit back and accept the tarnishing of this glorious youth and student movement by a group whose biggest problem as teenagers was finding parking space at university or the best cream to treat their pimples.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.