The F-word: Skhothanes reveal sad home truths

2012-06-16 09:49

As per the custom, we would have heard at yesterday’s June 16 commemorations how the present generation of young people is not as committed to a better society their 1976 counterparts.

Every generation believes itself to be smarter and more hard-working than the two generations that sandwich it.

One of the reasons that those who are not so young believe that youth is wasted on the young is the behaviour of the relatively new township sub-culture called “skhothanes”.

Skhothanes are groups of teenagers who compete with each other over who has the most expensive clothes and drinks the dearest alcohol.

Sometimes they publicly burn their clothes and money as a show of how their parents can afford to buy them more fancy stuff.

While it is easy to lambast Skhothanes as traitors to the generation of 1976, it might be more honest if we accepted them as the offspring of their parents and their society – veritable chips off the old block.

Skhothanes speak to the elevated status of crass materialism in our society today.

Like the opulent members of their parents’ generation, they waste no time showing off their latest sets of worldly possessions just so they can fit in with the “right” crowd. Even gold tooth fillings have been known to enhance the status of a skhothane.

Before we admonish them for their foolishness, we have to acknowledge that skhothanes symbolise how little we have done to improve the lot of many young, mostly black South Africans.

Their live-fast, die-young and be-buried-in-an-expensive-pair-of-shoes lifestyle betrays their fatalism. To them, the promise of tomorrow is a mirage.

With the mindset epitomised by skhothanes, it is no great wonder that young black males dominate the make-up of prison populations.

If you live in a society that will only give you respect relative to what you own, but does not give you a fair chance or skill to get these things, crime becomes a reasonable proposition.

Like the 1976 generation discovered, meaningful education is the only change agent that will give our youth a fair chance in life.

Every other intervention, including a youth wage subsidy, will be a short-term solution if it does not come with training young people and giving them skills that make them know they do not have to mimic those who don’t appreciate the difference between quality and standard of life.

The only difference between many rural and township schools today and in 1976 is that there is no threat to make Afrikaans the compulsory medium of instruction. By every other measure, including infrastructure, the quality of learning and teaching is as it was for many of the children of 1976.

Without a proper youth skilling and training plan, the proposed subsidy would be no more than subsidising the wages of a new generation of hewers of wood and drawers of water.

It would be setting in place a vicious cycle where children of subsidised wage earners will in time need the same state intervention.

Today’s youth must take a leaf out of the 1976 generation’s book and realise that they have to be their own liberators.

They must look beyond their parents, who are either too paralysed by their deference to authority or the hope that they too will one day benefit from its largesse, to stand by their children.

Young people have always been anti-establishment. We expect no different from the skhothane generation. Rebelliousness can either take society forward, like Tsietsi Mashinini’s did in 1976, or it could trap it in a meaningless now.

As Frantz Fanon said, “each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it”.

The 1976 generation discovered and fulfilled theirs. The skhothane generation must find its own, fulfil it or betray it.

» Follow me on Twitter @fikelelo

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