Memory is the weapon

2011-06-16 00:00

“NIZILIBELE ukuba nizalwa ngobani.” These are lyrics from Thandiswa Mazwai’s song Nizalwa Ngobani, which is taken from her debut CD Zabalaza. Loosely translated, the words mean: have you forgotten where you come from?

It is a call for young people to remember the history and the struggles of the people who gave birth to them so that they focus on the historical obligation of developing themselves, their families and the cominggenerations.

In June 1976, young people made difficult sacrifices so that the young people after them could enjoy being young and do the things that young people do in any normal society. It is not surprising then, that we often hear many people, rightly or wrongly, decrying the apolitical state of today’s youth.

Much as there is nothing wrong with young people enjoying their youth and doing youthful things, black youth, especially, cannot afford to live as if they are the product of a normal society. If you are a black young person, regardless of when you were born, you are a product of an abnormal society, given birth to by people who were forced to live abnormal and shameful lives.

This is true even if you belong to a generation that is disturbingly and annoyingly referred to as “born-free”.

The term “born-free” is sugar-coated in the same way “black diamond” is. It is a term meant to distract young people from the real struggles still to be fought and won. This month, young people, regardless of their age, would do well to heed Mazwai’s call and remember the struggles of people who gave birth to them so that they don’t forget where they come from.

Even if you were born in 2000, six years after South Africa’s first democratic elections, you can’t be referred to as a born-free if you were given birth to by people who still believe that their race is not as intelligent or as capable as other races, because if you are not vigilant, the same mentality will be passed on to you. Regardless of your date of birth, you cannot possibly be called a born-free if your mother, because of the colour of her skin, has spent all her life cleaning and cooking for other people.

Regardless of how old you are, if you are black you are the progeny of the former oppressed — a people who for decades were told that they are the wretched of the Earth; the result of a divine and monumental mistake.

What is the meaning of being called born-free when every time you visit your village, the crumbling walls of the place you call home are a constant reminder of the job that still needs to be done? What is this thing about being born-free when every time you visit your township you have to set aside money to give to your ailing cousin or the childhood friend who can’t find a job?

The political freedom and human dignity that was attained in 1994 and the constant improvement of the lives of many South Africans must not dupe young people into believing that the struggle has been discontinued.

As the saying goes, none of us is free when one of us is chained.

This realisation should help remind young people that as politically free as they are, the history of their country and harsh experiences of their parents call for a new kind of socialactivism.

During the turbulent eighties there was a song that was sung mainly by young people aligned to the student formation Cosas that went: “We can learn and fight at the same time”.

The words of this song ring true even today. Young people of today can enjoy their youth and vigorously pursue the development of their people at the same time. The best place to start is to remember the lives and struggles of the men and women who gave birth to them.

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