A street beggar down Market Street in Joburg. Picture: Lebohang Mashiloane/Independent Media
A street beggar down Market Street in Joburg. Picture: Lebohang Mashiloane/Independent Media

Shaking off mental slavery

By OPINION Time of article published May 6, 2017

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Black youths must know they have power to turn around their lives, writes Sandile Memela.

The debate on the freedom (or lack thereof) of the black youth, especially, has generated more heat than light.

Instead of sober thought and positive analysis, we have witnessed shallow dialogue, emotional reasoning, predictable utterances and finger-pointing that traps black youth to perpetual whiners that lack human agency.

The fact that this negativity is peddled by academics and self-styled youth leaders is more depressing.

Perhaps what we need to understand and acknowledge is that in the global village the condition of the black youth is neither special nor unique.

The same tragic reality confronts young people around the world in countries like Brazil and Spain.

All youth in the world live in what Bell Hooks defines as “white supremacist patriarchal capitalist” system that promotes wealth monopoly, selfishness and greed.

Yes, unemployment and poverty are real challenges for the country, especially for the black youth.

If truth be told, there are no prospects to increase employment as capitalist modernisation is moving towards automation that will rely less on human beings for the economic system to function.

But it would be naïve for anyone to expect an untransformed capitalist system that promotes and preserves inequality and injustice to deliver a golden egg for the black youth.

Perhaps the biggest start for us is not to moan about a situation that has absorbed black political and business leadership into its ranks. Instead, let us explore solutions to how black youth should deal with this challenge.

We all are in a situation where we must do the best we can with what we have.

The first step is for the black youth to squeeze drop by drop out of themselves the victim mentality, sense of entitlement and dependency syndrome that misleads them to believe life owes them something.

Whether black youths admit it or not, they are neither slaves nor oppressed men and women.

The advent of democracy and freedom transformed black people into human beings with the mental power and determination to change their own condition. This begins, first, at an individual level.

Ukufa kwengqondo ukufa komuntu – the death of a nation begins with the death of the individual mind with neither dreams nor a sense of personal responsibility.

It is time that the black youth internalise the inspirational words of Nelson Mandela: “The power is in your hands.”

In fact, we need to tell the youth that if they have neither purpose nor vision by the time they turn 25, they have no business to expect anything from anyone. Now that we are a 22-year-old democracy, it is time for tough love.

Those of us who grew up under the jackboot of apartheid have watched and read stories of men and women who came from poverty, oppression and exploitation who rose to become “somebodies” in life.

We learnt that despite challenges and problems, it was possible to achieve your dreams.

Those who were readers were inspired by books like Up From Slavery by Booker T Washington whose philosophy of individual self-determination is the golden thread that runs through the thinking of the ANC, for instance.

We were inspired and enlightened by stories of former slaves who believed in African-Americans making things happen for themselves.

We have got to transform the mindset of black youth to assume self-responsibility and thus believe in themselves and the power they hold to turn their lives around.

Looking at the middle class today, one cannot help but see a plethora of former young blacks that started in the rural areas and townships, but knew they did not have to remain there.

What the Germans call realpolitik teaches us that this is a dog-eat-dog world because of the economic system. It does not matter where you come from, but it is where you are going that is more important.

We have witnessed thousands of youth from oppressed backgrounds who worked hard, were focused and disciplined to be what they wanted to be. Depending on how you look at life, they have been successful in that.

Today they are ministers, premiers, senior managers, chief executives, editors, writers, executives, academics, artists, professionals and occupy positions of power.

These former youths that are today’s high-flyers in business, corporate world, government and other spheres of life did not fold their arms to excel in the blame game and finger-pointing.

A woman begging by the roadside with her daughter in Houghton. It is said that women who beg with their children get more money. File picture: Paballo Thekiso/Independent Media

They were driven by hunger to succeed.

After 23 years of democracy and freedom, the youth must recognise that any child from a disadvantaged background can be “different”, can be “somebody” and can lead a meaningful and purposeful life to achieve their personal vision and dreams.

There is no way we can deny that black youth are confronted by hardship as they grow up in poverty, overcrowded homes and crime-ridden communities. But this does not make them special or unique.

It is a universal and human condition that the poor will be with us. This is a 21st Century phenomenon that the late jazz maestro Zim Ngqawana described as “gobblization.

This economic system is out to eradicate and murder anyone who stands on its way. It is “kill the system or be killed!”

But what is important is how the youth react, what they are willing to do to overcome that.

As a people who defeated the most inhumane and brutal system on earth – apartheid – we know that nothing can stop us.

They youth must be taught to embrace the triumphant spirit of resilience. Their future is in their own hands. They must be victors not victims!

In fact, they must learn to internalise the lesson that they can be more than what the system wants to make of them: victims who complain about apartheid, racism, conditions in our schools and everything else.

In a country where Steve Biko died fighting to reinstate the self-confidence and determination among black youth, we cannot allow a situation where the youth resign themselves to a victim mentality.

Black Consciousness is an existential philosophy that teaches us that everything that happens in our lives is a direct result of what we do or do not do. We get what we deserve.

We have seen countless youngsters who have taken their lives seriously and turned them around to become super-achievers through focus, discipline and hard work.

The youth must desire to make a success of their lives to defeat the system.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is that there are far many who do not know how to do that.

The first important thing is to look at those who have overcome their poverty backgrounds and emulate their behaviour and attitude.

It does not help to have a sense of entitlement and expect the government to put things on the table.

Government has not done a great job to level the playing field or transform the economic system. Yes, more needs to be done. But the great work begins with every individual taking responsibility for their lives.

Instead of protest marches, workshops and summits where youth rage at the machine, it is time we spent more time and energy on providing guidelines on how to be a success in life.

We cannot run away from the stories of men like President Jacob Zuma who grew up in abject poverty, but have risen to become a success story.

Success is not just the love of money, only.

The time is now to speak more on some of the steps that will take the youth from being victims to powerful beings who control their own destiny.

We all know that in today’s South Africa the son of a factory worker, tea girl and messenger father can be anything he wants to be in life – if they put their time, energy and life into it.

It will never be enough to define the fault lines that are the problems that we face, that everybody faces: dispossession and land loss, economic inequality and prejudice.

It is time we move on to finding the solution and how the mind power changes everything.

We urgently need a mental paradigm shift that will result in the youth recognising that regardless of background or circumstances, it is possible to achieve your personal visions and dreams.

You are what you think or what you want to be. This country is full of black youth from the rural areas and townships who have struggled – not in the political sense – to overcome the challenges of life.

William Ncithi, a beggar in Pretoria, receives some assistance from a sympathetic motorist. File picture: Herbert Matimba/Independent Media

Let us look at them for inspiration and direction to understand that whatever obstacles the youth encounter, it is within their power to overcome and change their lives.

We do need to critically examine the life stories of some of our greatest leaders.

If Chris Hani, Biko, Thabo Mbeki, Zuma and endless others could do it, anyone can do it.

It just takes self-awareness, willingness and determination. The rules for success will never change.

As Nelson Mandela said, “blaming things on the past does not make them better. As long as you have an iron will you can turn misfortune into advantage.”

There is no greater truth. The youth must be freed from the victim mentality.

* Memela is a public servant and author of Zenzele: Young Gifted & Free (African Narratives 2012).

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Saturday Star

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