Why I don’t celebrate Youth Day!

2014-06-17 17:27

It had never occurred to me that I would one day be writing a piece on why I no longer truly celebrate or commemorate Youth Day on June 16th.

I guess there were many signs over the years that this would become a day of mourning, than joy, for me.

A few years ago, I realized that the word celebrate has ultimately led many people, mainly my generation, to construe the sentinel moment of our history as an opportunity to binge drink and purge in the streets without a real reflection of why we have this public holiday and how we need to build on the gains of the youth of 1976. The brave young people of 1976, mostly under the age of 18 years, who took a stand to revolt against the draconian apartheid  education laws. Laws that had declared that all Bantu schools were to be instructed in Afrikaans and continue to produce a cheap labour force that would continue to support white privilege and further entrench the apartheid project that was underway. Many young people who chose not to sit still and accept the injustice, revolted against the ongoing attack on black bodies, identities and real freedoms. Young black youth lost their lives as the apartheid police unleashed live bullets in a massacre only rivaled by the Sharpeville Massacre.

While we now remember their uprising as a fight for the right to education and the right to choose the language of instruction within black schools, the march was symbolic and a tipping point for the struggle for freedom in all spheres of life for black people. A fight for the right to self-determination for all South Africans which Nelson Mandela was prepared to die for. Black South Africans, old and young, we sick and tired of living in an oppressive society under minority rule.

In Cape Town, there were few events that marked the day, but I was aware of jubilation and marches taking place across other parts of the country and especially in Soweto.

Over the years, many opinionistas, have written and commented on the reduction of Youth Day to a party festival where young people get to parade the streets in their school uniforms drunk, mockeries of the photo of Hector Peterson being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo are portrayed with modern day youth drunk and passed out. A tomfoolery of black youth who may later stab each other to death because human life is not meaningful to them, their struggle for economic freedom has led many to a state of despair and a life of crime.

It wasn’t until I heard the 12-year-old girls I work with really express their wish for youth, particularly girls, in South Africa that I really heard and questioned the essence of the day and how we continue to celebrate it. It finally sunk in that there was no real reason to celebrate in the manner we do. Black children still wish for free quality education, the opportunity to access higher education at a cost that won’t bankrupt families and a wish to be self actualized individuals in a country that does not determine pay by race and gender. A day where girls will be free to access education without fear or favour, to see black schools flourish and nurture talented youth and to ensure that all children receive equal education.

So, on Monday I marked Youth Day by lending the day a tweet and a retweet of an image of apartheid police gunning down black youth on June 16th 1976, changed my twitter avatar and continued with my life as though it was just an ordinary day. I wonder how many of you are this disillusioned and marked the day in a similar manner.

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