At university, I didn’t attach much meaning to Youth Day; it was just a day I could use to catch up with my demanding studies or catch up with friends.
Typical of many students who were in the maths and physics stream at my school, history was not so important, it was just a subject studied by those who did not have the ability to fare well at maths and physics.
Looking at things retrospectively, one can realise how ignorant they were.
Over time through self-education I began to understand its significance to myself and other youths.
On June 16 each year I reflect on the sacrifices that were made for me and many generations to come.
The one question I always ask myself on the day is: “Have I done enough to honour the courage and resilience shown by the 1976 students in the Soweto Uprising?”
Phrased differently, have I made full use of the opportunities that have since become available to me as a South African youth, more so in the educational arena?
This is by no means an easy question to answer, but I encourage each and every South African youth to ask themselves that question and be as brutally honest as they can be with themselves.
I believe somewhere in this self-introspection lies an opportunity for one to live up to their full potential.
Another thought that has occupied my mind recently on my Youth Day reflections is whether the struggles of the youth and those of the elder citizens of this country have been different all along?
Simplified, has our definition of freedom always been different from that of the elder members of society, or have we lost each other somewhere in the process.
I ask myself this question with full understanding that one day I will no longer qualify to be called youth, but that when I make the transition I will be able to better understand and give audience to the youth of that time.
What brought about these thoughts is the “fees must fall” protests that have been part of our lives in recent years.
This attempt by students to draw the country’s attention to the need for an inclusive higher education system has been met by mixed emotions within our society, the most prevalent answer that always comes up is “we cannot afford it”.
I am of the view that we cannot afford not to afford it. But that’s a topic for another day.
But Youth Day is not all doom and gloom.
It provides an opportunity to spend time with my wife and son and appreciate the opportunities that exist within our society for the youth. We celebrate that we were fortunate enough to acquire good quality tertiary education.
That has opened doors for us and will go a long way in creating a legacy for future generations of our family.
This is also a time to celebrate youth leaders of our time who have shown courage and resilience in leading the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall campaigns.
This is also a time to celebrate youth excellence in many forms including Olympic medallist Caster Semenya and Luvo Manyonga.
Witnessing young inspiring lives such as these gives me some hope and assurance that the sacrifices made by the likes of Tsietsi Mashinini were not in vain, though we still have some work to do.
It would be very ignorant of us to not realise that the youth are faced with more social challenges.
Our country seems covered by a dark cloud of femicide. The brutal killing of women, us men subjecting them to physical and emotional abuse.
From the men are trash march, we realised that something had to change. I became a mentor at the Young Men Movement (YMM) on its inception last year.
YMM is dedicated to changing our community one boy at a time. The idea is to catch them very early and mould them into the type of men our communities can be proud of, the types of men that their female counterparts can feel safe around. This is a youth-driven initiative that is intended to change our society’s patriarchal ways of seeing things.
The idea is also to make them aware of the opportunities that are available to enable them to take better advantages of them and build a better life for themselves and create a safer community that is free from crime and violence.
We help them to discover their talents and areas of interests to perfect their God-given talents for them to achieve greatness while remaining humble.
The idea is to instil in them values that they will be able to take with them to any part of the world and make a difference.
We are assisting in facilitating a well-mannered male youth that is aware of the social, political, economic and technological conditions that are part of our everyday lives.
By sparking conversations around issues such as women leadership we are able to get the “boys”, as we call them, to embrace our evolving cultural norms and standards and enable a safe environment for both the boy and the girl child to thrive.
Another important part of this initiative is to encourage reading. Through reading the boys are able to broaden the way they look at the world.
Reading provides them with a new perspective on matters and makes them more vibrant and engaging youths.
In closing I quote a Tswana idiom that is very much at the heart of YMM’s vision for the youth: “Lore lo ojwa lo sale metsi” I wish you all a happy Youth Day!
* Phopolo Maloka-Pooe is a senior mentor at the Young Men Movement and a resident of Pankop, Dr JS Moroka Municipality, in Mpumalanga.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.