Youth Day

2008-06-18 00:00

On Monday South Africa celebrated Youth Day, a day which, because it honours the contribution of young people to our democracy, has joyful connotations, with perhaps a tinge of revolutionary fervour.

However, many Youth Day rallies around the country seem to have lacked these qualities, as politicians lectured, or perhaps harangued, those present, inveighing against crime, gangsterism and drugs, against xenophobia, against violence and degeneracy.

Jacob Zuma, addressing an ANC Youth League (ANCYL) rally in Thaba’Nchu, told his audience that the ANC would focus on disciplining bad behaviour in its ranks. Indications were that the party aimed to purge incorrigibles or “rogue elements”.

It seems politicians are coming to recognise that the younger generation — that is, the country’s future leadership — is an angry and violent one. Reference was made to violence in schools, for example, and to the sometimes leading role of young people in xenophobic attacks. If only Zuma would rebuke the leader of the ANCYL who, signalling his complete contempt for the rule of law, stated that he and the ANCYL “would kill” for the ANC president.

The trouble is that youthful violence is in many cases quite beyond simple party discipline and that those prepared to commit violent acts in the name of the party are likely to continue on their violent path even after having been purged as “rogue elements”. What leaders have not yet fully faced is the root cause of the violent mindset of the young — the violence of the country’s history, the violence encouraged by disrupted family lives, the violence caused by hopelessness and by the bitter disappointment that democracy has not brought with it the promised freedom and prosperity for all.

So politicians and other leaders who have chosen these themes for Youth Day are beginning to think along the right lines and it’s to be hoped that some of their hearers were reminded that democracy requires the responsible participation of every citizen — each taking responsibility for their own behaviour and for the well-being of every other member of society.

Let us hope that in their desire for democracy many remain impressed by the conduct of such committed democrats as Nelson Mandela. Heaven forbid they take their cue from our neighbour to the north, where President Robert Mugabe, in the name of his own peculiar brand of democracy, is showing his complete disregard for accepted democratic processes by announcing that guns are far more powerful than mere crosses on ballot papers.

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