This Heritage Weekend, five youth pen an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa on finding the true meaning of living heritage.
Dear Mr President,
Today, as we wish you and every South African a blessed Heritage Weekend, my friends and I find ourselves taking pause for reflection during these troubled times.
If the National Heritage Council defines heritage as that which is “preserved from the past to inform the present to equip successive generations to fashion the future”:
Nicholas: Crime and all forms of lawlessness have plunged our country into crisis. Corruption, gender-based violence and other social ills continue to decimate the most vulnerable in our communities.
As a final-year law student and HIV activist, my career plans are to work in public interest litigation. Choosing law was a call to action for me, the fulfilment of my desire to serve by using the law as an instrument to champion the rights and needs of indigent communities around me.
I am discouraged by the growing levels of inequality in South Africa today. The amount of effort and energy required to survive for those of lower incomes is unbearable and unsustainable. Our prospects of success should not be determined by the socioeconomic conditions from which we came.
Andy: I was born in 1997 and have never seen the miracle of South Africa’s new dawn. We lived in a shack until my mother died of Aids in 2008. She was 35 years old; I was 11. My little sister died a year later:
This is my thirteenth year on treatment. I am healthy and grateful that I get to receive life-saving drugs every month.
Today, after all the hardships I have experienced, I look around and wonder how many other children are going to trace my steps, not just from HIV/Aids, but also from losing their parents and caregivers to another pandemic – Covid-19.
There are things that make me proud to be Zulu, but I don’t fully support all aspects of my culture, such as the idea that women are less powerful than men.
Today I am very outspoken. I question whether South Africa will truly achieve equality for all in my lifetime. I question whether young people in lower-income schools will ever get the quality of education that will give them a fighting chance.
I was working until my grandmother fell ill and she now requires my full-time care. I desperately need a job. I struggled before Covid-19 and now the situation is so much worse. I appreciate the R350 grant, Mr President, but that won’t solve the long-term problem of the majority of youth being unemployed. Perhaps the money being allocated to social grants could be better spent building factories and other developments that would create direct jobs.
When basics such as mealie meal and sugar become luxuries, it is hard to find the joy and meaning of life.
At a time when she should be doing less and enjoying her life, my gogo is the primary caregiver of her children’s children. My situation is not unique, this is happening in so many families throughout South Africa. At 21 years of age, I don’t have a job and can’t afford to study further. Eleven of us survive on R2 180 per month. I help out wherever I can, especially with cleaning, but I want to do more.
Gogo has told me stories about the struggle against apartheid and the excitement she felt in 1994. I ask, Mr President, if this was the dream? I ask, Mr President, if the majority of South Africans are permanently doomed to live in poverty, excluded from the opportunities available to the fortunate few? Where do I find pride in being South African, black and female when every day I feel the shame of being poor?
Andy: I am blessed to have a mentor. He taught me everything I missed out from my own father. There have been many days when life just seems too tough and you break down. My mentor always says to me:
Conclusion by all: Our heritage is the legacy of our history and the guide to how we live our lives today. We are the generation bequeathed with the harsh legacy of apartheid. For the million-plus children orphaned by Aids, you might say they inherited the consequences of what happens when leadership fails to address a problem.
The choices we make today and how we live and lead now is what we will pass on to the next generation. Mr President, we have not walked a mile in your shoes, just as you have not walked in ours, but we want to work with you. Intergenerational dialogue and collaboration is key.
One thing is clear – we need to start afresh and create a new culture. It is time to cancel the culture of corruption, entitlement, lack of accountability and superiority that has delayed or destroyed the privileges of democracy. It is time to create a new reality in which being born in South Africa – irrespective of colour, gender, class, tribe or credentials – is the promising start to a productive and prosperous life for every South African.
Nicholas Marks (26) is a final-year law student and youth board member of the Aids Consortium;
Andy Morobi (25) is a musician and recently became a father;
Thobeka Mkhize (20) is awaiting the opportunity to au pair in Denmark once the Covid-19 pandemic subsides, as part of her journey of self-discovery;
Senzo Nkomo (24) is trained in administration and call centre management, and is currently seeking employment; and
Vukani Mzamane (22) is unemployed and seeking an entry-level position in sales or marketing
Nicholas, Andy, Thobeka and Senzo were part of 25 youth living with HIV who documented their stories in the ground-breaking book Young Gifted & Positive, published by the Aids Consortium in December 2020