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Why has this day become nothing less than a playing field for politicians to only focus on fellow politicians, asks Petrus Malherbe.
Pretoria - During last year’s Youth Day celebrations in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, then minister of arts and culture, Paul Mashatile, laid a wreath on the grave of Siphiwe Zuma.
Zuma was president of the SA Students’ Congress and died in 2002 at the age of 23 in a motorcar accident.
In his speech, Mashatile praised Zuma, saying: “It is an important day during which we should remember our fallen heroes from the Struggle.”
I am sure Zuma was loved by his friends and family, but to single him out during official celebrations because of his “role during the Struggle” is nothing more than propaganda.
Youth Day is supposed to be a day to commemorate the heroic actions of all the students who died on June 16, 1976 and thereafter.
Zuma wasn’t even born in 1976.
He was barely 10 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
Zuma is as little a hero of the Struggle as I am.
Why do we no longer remember the youth on Youth Day?
Why has this day become nothing less than a political playing field for politicians to only focus on fellow politicians and not on the youths of today who deserve special recognition?
It’s because our politicians have clearly forgotten what the word youth means.
If you pay attention next time during one of President Jacob Zuma’s dry Youth Day speeches, take note on who he will be addressing it to.
His propagation against everything from drugs to gangsterism and impossible promises of work, happiness and money for all is always aimed at the youth of today.
But is that truly who the youth is?
The youth is certainly not every Tom, Dick and Harry under the age of 30.
At 24 I am just as little a part of the youth as my grandmother aged 83.
According to the Oxford English dictionary, the word youth refers to the age between childhood and adulthood.
It most definitely does not refer to the average doping unemployed 23-year-old.
Therefore, I propose that the Youth Day be given back to the youth.
Give it back to the young people, those aged between 10 and 18.
Give it back to the kids.
Instead of organising massive gatherings where politicians preach and urge young adults to drink and smoke less or to be less promiscuous, rather help the teenage population that also needs help.
This can easily be done by teaching the youth skills they can use in their everyday lives.
Teach them how a camera works, how to dance or how to catch fish.
Teach them horse riding.
Teach them the importance of exercise, taking part in organised sport and learning skills of healthy competition.
The possibilities are endless.
Why lure a child with a plate of food for one day to attend a Youth Day rally?
You are essentially bribing him.
Why not make use of the age-old slogan: give a man a fish and you feed him for one day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Formal education can only bring a person that far. Knowing the chemical composition of nitric acid is all good, but what about skills you can use in your everyday life?
Government should make better use of the weekends surrounding Youth Day.
It must organise workshops and get-togethers for groups of teenagers and engage with them on their level.
If you preach to a teenager from a stage, they are not as inclined to listen to you.
But if you speak to them on their level, chances are they might just hear and understand what you are saying.
If you tell teenagers the changes to expect if a girl falls pregnant and they fully grasp the consequences, it might just keep them from having sex irresponsibly.
Next time, remember: that 23-year-old “youth” is more than old enough to take care of his own life.
Rather turn the spotlight on the true youths of today and give Youth Day back to them.
You might just be surprised what difference it can make.
* Petrus Malherbe is a postgraduate student in the University of Stellenbosch journalism department.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.