Deferring a time bomb

2010-05-13 00:00

EARLIER this week, The Witness published a story of how students at the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) have started a feeding scheme to help curb the number of their mates forced to prostitute themselves or deal drugs to avert hunger­.

It is a noble gesture by the young people. However, it is always sad when life at university, which should be a season of carefree and calculated debauchery, becomes such a slog for our young people. It robs them of their youth.

In the context of this far-sighted initiative at MUT, the latest bright idea by our government to send our young to the army so they can learn discipline and patriotism beggars belief.

I am certain that one or two highly paid government consultants would have heard of the causal link between idle hands and the devil. One need not be religious or a psychoanalyst to know that depriving energetic and sometimes talented young people of the space to showcase their abilities is a recipe for listlessness.

Nor does anyone need to be a political scientist or sociologist to figure out that the so-called “ill-disciplined” youth also happen to come from communities that are still waiting for the freedom dividend­.

For if lack of military training was the reason for the lack of the poor discipline record, then surely white males who were too young or not yet born before conscription ended, would also be seen in protests against lack of service delivery or other forms of ill-discipline — whatever that may mean.

An impression is created that our young people, who should be at universities or at their places of employment, simply choose to bunk classes or skip work just because they cannot resist the fun of the toyi-toyi by the unemployed and those living in rusty shacks or, if lucky, in shoddily built houses.

Given who leads our society, I would have thought our leaders would have remembered Amilcar Cabral’s injunction never to tell lies or claim easy victories.

If they were not claiming these easy victories, they would have been open to the possibility that those the establishment routinely dismisses as ill-disciplined are in fact simply angry that, 16 years on, they remain excluded from all the “possibilities” they hear South Africa is alive with.

If the argument is that it is in the army that our young people will learn valuable skills, can anyone explain why that money is not used by the further education and vocational training colleges to equip the nation’s children with the ability to make something meaningful of their lives?

The National Defence Force is not exactly a model of discipline itself. Minister of Defence Lindiwe Sisulu herself had to be stopped by the courts from firing an entire regiment of soldiers who marched to the Union Buildings last year. It is therefore odd that anyone would think of the army as the place to go to if you wanted to make “men out of our sons”.

Sisulu famously said that the march (which was in support of a 30% salary increase and which degenerated into a riot that saw passers-by assaulted, police as well as journalists pelted with stones and police vehicles set alight) represented “the worst form of criminality in a democracy.”

Now she thinks the same circumstances can teach our young something about discipline and patriotism.

Young South Africans are not stupid. Neither are they, as a group, lacking discipline. They are angry, and rightly so. If I were in their shoes, the contempt that is shown by the establishment would make me angrier.

They know that you can tell a nation’s passion by looking at what it prioritises.

They have seen how easily this country is able raise funds for projects if it needs to. They know that their country committed billions of rand to buying arms and more recently demolishing perfectly good stadia to build new ones because Fifa decreed it.

They wonder why each year they should have to fight universities not to exclude them because they are too poor to pay their fees, when money is always found in the budget to build stadia or buy arms. That is, if they are lucky enough to have had a decent education that allows them into university­.

They cannot understand why it is that despite all the big words about economic fundamentals being in place, they remain on the wrong side of the fifth most unequal society under the sun and they have to sell their bodies just so they can get a college degree.

To call them ill-disciplined is as much of a cop-out as saying that those who died of Aids because they did not have access to ARVs were simply unlucky. It may soothe the consciences of the historically and recently advantaged communities but it is no more than deferring a time bomb.

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