Not All Is Drugs And Alcohol Among Young People

2013-06-15 10:20

There are critical conversations worth undertaking as we draw closer to commemorating Youth Day; conversations that explore how this day can be used to promote the founding values of our democracy, to celebrate young heroes and heroines committed to nation-building, while also strengthening the moral fibre of young people.

With the advent of democracy emerged a shared commitment to promote social cohesion and nation building, thereby driving away from the injustices of a deprived, shared space for cohabitation and interracial communities apartheid introduced.

Youth Day is arguably the most powerful tool to enhance cohesion among the youth.

It can be used to build bridges that will connect young people from all corners of society.

By composition, the population of young people is widespread across racial lines, gender, ideologies, professions, areas of interest, and cultural backgrounds. In light of that, youth day celebrations must appeal to all these subgroups.

Not a single racial group must be excluded. As a matter of principle, dedicated White youths must feel appreciated for their efforts towards building a better SA.

Historically, June 16 is one of the most important days not only in the political calendar of our country, but in the history book of the world as well. It is a remembrance of the courageous spirits of young people who never passively allowed a cruel white man to define their future.

Those young people embodied selflessness and epitomised the strength in the concerted efforts of the youth. Although their sacrifices didn’t immediately lead to our freedom, they inspired a revolutionary attitude across the country.

This determination to fight for their rights turned many of them into exiles, with countries like Tanzania receiving them as part of the exile liberation movement. Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK) and the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) boosted their guerrilla movements through the intake of these young militants whose lives were on the cusp of termination at the cruelty of apartheid police.

Never shall we forget these brave brothers and sisters of ours.

However, and given our gratitude for their struggle for freedom, I sometimes think we delve too much into historical remembrances that we fail as a nation to contextualise our struggles as per times and circumstances. The anecdotes we hear on June 16 remain unchanged, and at times are intended to make the current generation of young people feel worthless and amounting to nothing compared to the class of ‘76.

Listening to elders talking about the youth I often feel like as youth we are being reduced to drugs, HIV/AIDS, alcoholism, and ill-discipline. We are being defined by our weaknesses, instead of glorifying our strengths so that we may pick up on where we lack.

As a university student committed to learning and empowering myself, I feel neglected in the annual rhetoric of Youth Day. I get lost in the forests of negative comments recklessly made about us.

Drugs.

Alcohol.

Gangsterism.

But not all of us do drugs, I’d internally defend myself.

But I know Michael Van Niekerk from my university who donates blankets to needy children during winter. What about him?

Surely Aaron Machotola (Leaders in Motion), Tshepo Mabuya (Young Change Makers), Nangamso Koza (Inqubela Foundation), Tumelo Moreri (Tomorrow's Leaders Today), Sibusiso Tshabalala (Top 10 Google Young Minds) and Lehlohonolo Mofokeng (Pioneers of Brilliance), to mention but a select few, deserve to be cut some slack in acknowledgement of their efforts to build a better SA.

I can imagine how they feel, together with many other Black and White young people, when their efforts to improve the standards of leadership and education in their communities are contaminated by the “These Young People Of Today...” popular statements from people who don’t understand our frustrations.

So maybe before haphazardly staining all of us with the same mud of ignorance, thorough research must be conducted about young people who are in businesses, running non-profit organisations, and filling universities to quench their rightful thirst for knowledge.

Complaining about us is an antithesis to the original intent of this day. Commemorate those who are doing amazing things so that others may be inspired.

If we keep highlighting the bad side, we don’t challenge the ‘lazy’ ones to aspire to achieve greatness. Regrettably, we massage them in the comfort of their apathy.

It’s on Youth Day—a day set out to commemorate young people—that we are told of how ‘anti-education’ we are, totally oblivious to the fact that each year universities in the country get overpopulated with young people who share Nelson Mandela’s correct understanding of education being the only weapon potent of unchaining us from the bondage of poverty and township hopelessness.

Why is there lack of space in SA universities when young people despise education?

Why are there constant cries about the ineffectiveness of NYDA if young people aren’t interested in venturing into business?

As the youth we are hungry for action. We need resources to maximise our potential. We need opportunities to nurture our different talents. We want youth centres that are not politicised. We want political education that is not a masquerade for electioneering. We want youth leaders who are not political careerists but genuine champions of our demands.

Undeniably, we still have a proportional challenge when coming to the number of young people getting education and those loitering in the streets.

Nonetheless, that doesn’t justify the attacks we get on Youth Day.

I revolt.

I refuse to allow people who don’t even understand our challenges as the youth to ridicule our efforts to co-create a shared future devoid of racial classification and a self-serving history.

Defining us based on other young people who lack inspiration in life is as unfair as is clothing all whites with the same generic garment of selfishness.

Actually, comparing us to the 1976 learners is misguided. We can't be like them. We can at least derive some traits from them.

It doesn’t matter what Tsietsi Mashinini would have said about teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and abortions. Hector Pieterson’s would-be views about school drop-outs are not a priority.

They came and wrote history with their lives and for that we are grateful. It is our time now. We have our unique problems to deal with. Black, White, Indian, and Coloured, all young people must unite behind common challenges and charter their own vision for a better future.

A plea to some of our elders is to desist from planting poisonous ideas into our minds. Rather than spreading fallacies that redress policies are ‘reverse apartheid’, you have a moral duty to outline the origins of those policies and their intended outcomes – diversity in the workplace and giving the previously excluded a footing in the economy.

As I prepare myself for its commemoration, I can only hope this Youth Day will serve to honour those young people in fields such as science and technology, those young millionaires, those chartered accountants, and those with big hearts who make a difference in their communities.

Not all is doom and gloom.

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