In his inaugural address the 35th US President John F. Kennedy inspired children and adults to see the importance of civic action and public service through his historic words; “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”
Here he challenged the people of his nation to public good.
Less than two decades later, children who were either born around “JFK’s” inauguration or assassination here in South Africa, proved sufficiently equal to his call.
They took it upon themselves to stand up against a cruel government at the greatest expense to their comfort, well-being and little lives.
And for that, they claimed a distinguished legacy for themselves and all the nation’s young people.
That generation, as young as they were, understood that their country under the leadership of a racist government could not only do nothing for them, but would also destroy their country for which they understood that they still had so much to do for it. They would not allow an unjust regime to deny them their destiny.
The events that panned out in Soweto and other parts of South Africa throughout 1976 brought intra-, inter-and-extra-transformation for the country’s youth segment. This youth cannot and should never be looked at in the same way.
South Africa’s leadership in all sectors of this society is called upon to remember that it is not in the nature of the youth to ask what the country will do for them. They want to do something for their country. And their country really needs their help right now.
The question that this country’s leadership needs to ask is whether they are not denying this youth the opportunity to do for their country. If they are doing that, then they would be denying the country an opportunity to be serviced impactfully.
A single look on any part of this country be it its infrastructure, resource management, governance, innovation, economic development and planning shows that the youth really has a lot to offer this country. But are they doing it? Or should I say, are they given an opportunity to serve and service their country?
Many rightfully lament the alarmingly high youth unemployment rate in this country as this generation continues to bear its burden. The youth continues to be disadvantaged in the labour market with an unemployment rate higher than the national average. According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for the first quarter of 2022, the unemployment rate was 63.9 percent for those aged 15-24 and 42.1 percent for those aged 25-34 years. The current official national rate is at 34.5 percent. As sad as these figures are, they do not tell the full story.
The country’s high domestic violence unmasks the fact that the interests of the youth are being ignored within their own families. No right minded parents can fight and tear down their home if they really care about their children's wellbeing and future. They are not imparting in them the best of values.
The crimes that occur in communities, especially in schools, show how unvalued the lives of young people and their futures have become. The abuse of young girls and boys, crimes against their teachers and break-ins that occur in schools are themselves an affront on the country’s prospects.
The ever increasing crime rates in all South African communities and the inability of law enforcement to prevent it, coupled with the failure of the justice department to promptly and efficiently deal with the perpetrators, denote the evaporation of dreams as fear totally sets in.
The mismanagement of public funds and poor service delivery make the journey to a better future an ordeal. The future itself will clearly be hell.
In a time when the youth cannot ask what their country is doing for them, the country is crying to the youth to save it. The youth who have recently exited the system where they raised their hands everyday, raise their hands again to be part of the solution. They can no longer watch as the country stumbles from one crisis to another. It pains them that it fails to implement this project here and that project there. Day after day the opportunities of growth pass by as we all wallow in hopelessness.
Something's got to give. The frustrated young people who roam the streets with qualifications that this economy depends on, should come together with the young people who sit with their innovative ideas in the offices and boardrooms of the private and public sector. The talented yet idle youth should come together with their overworked yet underpaid counterparts. They should come from all directions just as the Youth of 1976 assembled in Soweto to confront the system that set them up for failure. They should come together and set themselves for hope, triumph and prosperity.
We should not ask what our country can give us. We should not cry about what our country is not giving us. Ours is to ask ourselves what we can give our country to help free it from the shackles of unemployment, poverty and inequality. We should ask ourselves how we can prevent the mismanagement of its resources and prevent the suffering of its people.
The Youth of 1976 adequately responded to JFK’s call in a way that left a legacy that would be celebrated for far longer than the time he spent in his presidency. Just as he was killed for his convictions, so was the ‘76 generation mowed down, hurt and terrorised for standing up against social injustice. They left us a legacy to enjoy today. We are being called upon to stand up against all odds to create a legacy of an economy that not only leaves no one behind but also affords everyone the respect and dignity they deserve.
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