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A few years ago, the Comrades Marathon was shooed away from its June 16 date, on the grounds that it constituted disrespect to Youth Day and posed a distraction from it.
There was no such pressure, though, on the rugby Test between the Springboks and England on Saturday. Careful politics seemed to pacify any objectors, with the Bok coach and the captain laying a wreath at the Hector Pieterson memorial.
Television commentators noted the day, too, and Bok skipper Jean de Villiers was also handed an opportunity in the live, post-match interview to observe the day.
Something that did divert attention from the day’s purpose, however, was President Zuma’s absence from the main Youth Day rally at Wolfson Stadium, Port Elizabeth. He had apparently been scheduled to speak, but flew off to Mexico for the G20 summit. Many saw it, in spite of an official denial, as a bid to avoid disruption planned for the rally.
In spite of an ANC ban on succession talk, the rowdy behaviour of some young people at the event spoiled its solemnity, as pre-Mangaung pressure builds in the tripartite alliance.
Youth leaders thundered on about economic transformation, about nationalising mines and taking land without compensation. But the focus did not fall sufficiently on the present state of our young people in South Africa.
On critical fronts, education and jobs among them, prospects are bleak. Then there are child-headed households by the tens of thousands, families fractured by separation or divorce, deadbeat fathers and a glaring lack of parental guidance.
While the extraordinary role of young people in hastening the arrival of democracy must be etched in history, the focus now should be on how to brighten the outlook for them.
The priority should not be goals such as land and mine grabs, but ways of young people securing basic rights, like a fair start in life – decent schooling and jobs, for instance, all in good health.