Listen to the young raging voices, you might find calm

2015-05-06 15:07

A few things have intrigued me for the past few months. Hence I have stopped myself from blogging. Now calling me out from my blogosphere hideout crib is the sensationally insurgent vocals of Brittany Howard from the soul band Alabama Shakes, the riots by youths in Baltimore, the protests by young Burundians and the anti-white imperialism university student movement currently on a high in the not-so-rainbow Cape Town. So now it’s apparent, that Brittany, in her James Brown simulating shriek of rebellion as she sings “I don’t wanna fight no more,” echoing in my earlobe as I write this links for me the prevailing voice of resistance from young people from Jozi to Brixton to New York and back to Bujumbura.

It is evident that a section of young people globally are angry. This is true, judging from who is now leading the anti-stance on our streets.  Currently we are seeing youths in Burundi burning the streets, shouting and throwing stones at police in protest against the proposal by their country’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza to extend his rule.  On the other side of the planet, not for the first time this year, in the “not-so-United” States of America we witnessed the call by a predominantly crowd of youths in Baltimore last week demonstrating over the death of Freddie Gray. The same trend last week continued in London’s Brixton where an anti-gentrification demonstration, with a youthful crowd, took place titled “Reclaim Brixton”. Here in South Africa, in the past few weeks we have been discussing the radical #RhodesMustFall, where students of the University of Cape Town (UCT) were demanding that the statue of Cecil John Rhodes must be taken down, as students claimed it is a representation of era of colonialism and black oppression. Not far from this scene, the students of Stellenbosch University are still continuing with their sidelined campaign they’ve titled Open Stellenbosch which calls for cultural and racial transformation in the learning institution. What is concerning about the wave of the international uprisings, excluding Burundi, is that young people are raging against issues relating to racism and discrimination towards black people.

Here at home. Many weeks ago, I had the opportunity, on the online radio program I host, to speak to the initiator of the #RhodesMustFall campaign at UCT, Chumani Maxwele. Speaking to him, it was clear to me that this young man was angry about what he calls “systematic racism” which he still sees as prevailing in South Africa. For the young Chumani, the Rhodes statue didn’t represent Cecil Rhodes as the so-called “nation-builder” or “Commonwealth notable” as some would suggest, however he told me the statue represented for him “white power and white structure”.  But speaking to Maxwele I quickly noticed his fiery tone wasn’t just about a static brick shaped in the image of a white man but about the institutional inequality he experienced daily at UCT as a student. “Language carries culture. (But) everything you do in Stellenbosch and UCT is in Afrikaans or English. When you go in a lecture, you leave everything African outside. You start to realize that the African students are running away from themselves and want to adapt to whiteness…their thinking is whiteness; their act is whiteness and even their accent. You need an accent to be taken serious.”

Chumani is not alone. This same thinking is echoed by a collective of students at Stellenbosch University students in an Op-Ed they released, where they say that “black students on campus have taken matters into our own hands to change the oppressive institutional culture at Stellenbosch is an indictment of the University management. We (the students) do not believe that those in the SRC, the Senate or the Council understand the weight of normalized oppression that we experience at this overtly white University”.

If you are indifferent, you can surmise these statements as irrational, explicitly provocative and insulting. However, it will be a major error to ignore the voice of a group of young people which represents our country’s current and future intellectual capital. It will be a disaster to ignore that these young people interpret their society in this fashion. The strong language used by these young people demonstrates the youth’s deep dissatisfaction pertaining to race relations. Despite the fact that many of us young people were raised through the 90s, where the country experienced the euphoric “happy-clappy” rainbow narrative, years down the line we are seeing ourselves rebelling against this notion. It is now clear that South Africa needs to acknowledge that there are existing racial divides in our institutions, communities and society. It’s time as a society, in different sectors, we addressed the real conversation about how racial inequalities in South Africa’s democracy are systematic and institutionalized.

Last week, we saw another young person making headlines and spearheading another national conversation on race. Student representative council leader Mcebo Dlamini made headlines and had a little stint on national television for his Facebook “I Love Hitler” comment and his views that “In every white person there is an element of Hitler”. Most definitely, these statements were disorganized and awkward in my view. However, the fault in the discussions surrounding the young solo protestor is that everyone focused on what he said, but very few asked the question why was a young man who has lived most of his life in the post-apartheid period is so angry at white people and disillusioned in this democracy. Many were quick to dismiss Mcebo Dlamini and a few cared to ask what inspired his anger and rage which spoke louder than his crippled words. It comes back to the simple fact: thereare young people are angry about the state of things.

Rhodes History Lecturer Nomalanga Mkhize captures the current spirit of youth protest and dissatisfaction in South Africa brilliantly.  In her Business Day Opinion piece,Tenacious Belief in the Ideal of the University,sighting the #RhodesMustFall campaign: “It is in universities that young people come to believe they have a duty to wrestle with ‘high theory’ and conceptual abstractions that appear to have little to do with the practical issues of daily life”. She later states, “…academics were virtually dethroned by the students, who showed us up for our intellectual complacency in our comfy ivory towers…they were articulating vision for a more humane society and critiquing our universities for paying lip service to transformation”.

It is clear there ar new voices rising up in contemporary life of South Africa’s society, with a sense of ownership on how they want to reinterpret their society. We also seeing a shift from a leadership representing “old school” sentiments and one that has an allegiance towards “struggle” comradeship. It seems there are new voices representing new interests that attach to themselves sentiments that have a Pan-African and Black Consciousness lending to them. In these demonstrations and voices, we are seeing a glimpse of a 1976-protest-talk, which mobilizes itself to forge on against what is deemed “white-supremacy”.  On a politics level, we have seen in the past year, the EFF charade, led by Julius Malema, Floyd Shivambu and their news spinner Mbuyiseni Ndlozi as instrumental in this regard. As young political “giants”, they have been shaping a new conversation which connects the narrative of colonized Africa to challenges experienced by black people in the democratic dispensation. In terms of youth leadership, even the conservative and “safe” Mmusi Maimane, who seems insistent on promoting the irrelevant rainbow nation and “post-racialism” storyline, exemplifies the rise of young politicians who are detached from the apartheid struggle.

It is evident these voices are here. Seeing from the way things are going, they are here to stay. The worse thing we could embark on as a society is to attempt to sideline and quiet these voices. The young voices we are hearing at this stage of our democracy are not speaking from a vacuum or with no reason to speak. Their concerns may be a nuisance to some, but they are not immaterial. If we do not hear them it may be a detriment to how we progress as a democracy. Maybe if we stopped being defensive of the old order and if we could stop and listen to what the new wave of youth have to say, we may find a calm in this storm.

Now let me put my earphones back on and blast Brittany’s explosion of “I don’t wanna fight no more….”

twitter handle: @jazz2ben

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