Sibongile Mafu

The youth are old and tired

2012-10-10 09:57

Sibongile Mafu

I fall comfortably into what the government would label the "youth" in this country. I'm still more than a decade away from that rather generous cut-off age of 35. In South Africa you can hit your mid-life crisis while still being considered part of the youth. What a special country we live in.

This is a particularly turmoil-filled time in the country. No day is without a crisis. Most of these directly affect young people (those that are actually young as opposed to old people masquerading as young people). Every single one of these national crises be it education, health, unemployment, poverty, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, the list goes on, speaks directly to the plight of the young person.

Like a good party, we refuse to miss out. Big and important discussions are held to talk about ways to make things better for us, most of these shutting us out completely. What valuable contribution could we possibly make? We must just quietly cast our votes every few years like the obedient children that we are and not draw too much attention to ourselves when it's not an election year.

Harmful labels

Many political analysts give the youth of this country very harsh and what I would consider harmful labels: apathetic, lazy, selfish and not too bright. Youngsters don't read, and the only struggle they understand is when the jam jar refuses to open. The born-frees particularly bear the brunt of this criticism. They're not considered very conscious and those that are, are special cases and the exception to the rule.

But how important are our voices in post-apartheid South Africa when the people looking out for our interests, the people whose interests are grouped with our own, are almost twice our age? The generation gap between a 14-year-old and 25-year-old is big enough; the gap between a 14-year-old and 35-year-old year old is the size of the Atlantic. One can argue that these different generational viewpoints could only help in getting a variety of perspectives of what a "not old" person's struggle in South Africa is. But the weight and value attached to these viewpoints are leaning heavily towards one side, the side closing in on 40.

Then there are born-frees, children who were born into a free and democratic South Africa, a South Africa that was alive with possibility, and a South Africa that wanted to host every sporting tournament known to man. Looking at the state of things right now, born-frees didn't completely hit the jackpot. The free country that they were born into is filled with problems that the years they have been alive have not been able to correct. And it is because of this that the role of the young person is so important.

We cannot remain still

The "Why Mandela is my hero" pieces we wrote as 10-year-olds can't be our only contribution to the dialogue. When our parents and our parents' parents spoke of making life better for future generations, they kind of meant us. We are that generation. We are in that space, and we cannot remain still. The hope our parents had of a brighter South Africa cannot be allowed to dim.

In a country where the youngsters are taught to respect their elders, and never speak out of turn, perhaps what is needed now more than ever, is for the youth to finally speak out of turn.

Professor Kwandiwe Kondlo of the Centre for African Studies at the University of the Free State wrote in his paper, "The Role of Youth in a Participatory Democracy", about how the youth organisations that get the most airtime in this country - the ANC Youth League and Young Communist League - are the visible representatives of the youth. "When we talk about youth participation in a democracy, we always refer to these two structures."  These groups however represent a certain viewpoint and not all of South Africa's young people.

We don't have to be followers

Perhaps young people become deterred from organising themselves because of fear of being marginalised and ignored. Maybe the realisation that our voices are important and smart won't come from the acknowledgement and recognition of others but from ourselves. That fear needs to dissipate.

We must realise that just because we are young, just because we have not lived many years on this earth does not mean we have to be followers, always looking to the knowledgeable and wise elders for answers.

I look forward to the day when the youth's voice is finally taken seriously. I look forward to the day the youth take themselves seriously.

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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