We youth must get involved

2012-06-30 09:41

You can tell a lot about how people define the word “community” by looking at fans of sports teams.

On big game days in our cities and towns we often see people going crazy for Swallows, Pirates or Ajax, but not so often for Bafana.

In Pretoria we see grown men hanging blue balls from their bakkies’ tow bars and putting horns on their heads to show they would die for the Blue Bulls.

The same passion is rarely displayed when the Springboks, our national team, play.

Living in Nigeria a few years ago, I was amazed that fans of Chelsea or Arsenal would come to blows in the street over the score but not even notice when the Super Eagles, the national team, competed.

In Europe it’s pretty much the same thing – fans travel across continents to see their Premier League teams play while national teams often have to play second fiddle.

What does this tell us about communities we feel part of?

Communities can be very small – some neighbours on your street who you like to hang out with over weekends, or your church group, or Ndifuna Ukwazi – or really large, like the community of Manchester United fans.

When we feel we belong to a community we are happy to make sacrifices for that community, we open our front doors and wallets for other members of that community, and often we become willing to participate in struggles on behalf of that community.

We know that in 1976 young people from all race groups, some of them minorities, joined what became a community of activists to fight for a common, just cause.

When I was asked about the role of white youth in South Africa, the first question that came to mind was how young white people define the word community.

Who and what are they willing to struggle for?

Because just as in sport, it is easier to identify with the struggles of people who we regard as part of our community than those who fall outside it.

So what can we say about the struggle of young white people?

I know young white people who ask themselves: what if I do really well at school and still don’t get a job because of the colour of my skin?

My parents voted for the apartheid government but I didn’t, so why must I pay?

They struggle with an uneasy sense of guilt mixed with perceived powerlessness – I know my forebears designed and supported a system that was morally indefensible, yet I don’t see a role for myself in politics or social activism.

They say we are victims – of violent crime, corruption, failure of service delivery, affirmative action.

These struggles are very real for some white youth, and I don’t think they are soon going to go away, but they also take place within “community circles” that are sometimes very narrowly drawn.

Our challenge as young white people is to ask ourselves critically which communities we are part of and for which communities we are willing to struggle. If we define “community” too narrowly, we are in deep trouble.

The most meaningful struggles in history have occurred when people stopped fighting only for their narrow self-interests, and started fighting on principle for people with whom they once thought they had little in common.

The battle for the recognition of human rights is strongest when straight people fight alongside gay people for gay rights.

It was strong in 1976 when white people joined a political struggle against a system that was designed for their own benefit.

Imagine if only women fought for women’s rights, only children for children’s rights?

The world only changes for the better when we include in our struggles people who do not look like us, sound like us, love like us, walk like us, and vote like us.

That is a personal challenge for every person and it is the challenge of young whites, most of whom have a very real desire to play an active role in building a future in South Africa.

But many of us have become very good at building futures for ourselves and our narrowly defined communities.

We must start, as a friend suggested on Facebook, with a recognition of privilege, which should not paralyse us into guilt and inaction, but which must spur us to more active citizenship.

» Pelser is the outgoing editor of NewsNow magazine and now the deputy editor of Rapport

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