Youth possess the dynamism to create a better world for all
The definition of the term youth is relative, as those of us who are on the other side of fifty still feel very youthful. We accept however that we are no longer as agile; nor as daring; and that we are not quite as astute at grasping the intricacies of technology as our children and grandchildren. And so, we concede to the definition of youth as 35 years old and younger. We also painfully concede that there are young people who are indisputably as capable of driving positive change as we are.
A most notable expression of the capabilities and power of youth is the current worldwide anti-racism protests, which emerged in response to repression in the United States of America, particularly the police brutality that led to the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. While the protesters span all demographic categories, young people are prominent both in presence and verbosity.
Accumulative frustrations with decades of systemically entrenched racial discrimination, unemployment, inequality and poverty, reminiscent of the days of slavery – exacerbated by the inept public management of Covid-19 – have reawakened a consciousness amongst Americans that they too are victims of the brutality of their systems that daily cause misery to millions of innocent people in other countries. The 21st Century is witnessing a revolt, the scale of which might exceed the 1963 march on Washington for jobs and freedom. Much of this revolt is being propelled by young people who have a vociferous determination to bring an immediate halt to racism and the structural elements that underpin it, as they transcend the traditional “America first” mentality to accommodate the clarion call that “black lives matter”; a slogan that has become a universal symbol of the rejection of all forms of discrimination.
Powerful and articulate, the likes of Madeleine Smith and celebrities, including car racing driver Bubba Wallace in the USA, are among the many young voices rallying for the attainment of justice and the creation of a better world. Whether in Canada or Britain; Greece or New Zealand, those who came out in droves to express solidarity with the protesters in the USA, are mostly youth. They braved batons, bullets, and prison as they challenged long-entrenched destructive systems and practices, exposing its stifling cruelty as they echoed the last words of Floyd, “I can’t breathe”. In the USA, tens of thousands of protesters have already been arrested.
People in other countries, including South Africa, who have fought oppression based on discrimination, can relate to current developments in the USA. The boldness of the youth of the USA is so much like that of those who challenged the mighty regime of apartheid. Just as the government of the USA bullies weaker foes across the globe, so too the military prowess of the Nationalist Party had the rest of the continent in tension, having annexed Namibia and sowed havoc on frontline states with the same ruthlessness that it bestowed on its citizens who dared to challenge its policies. Youth bore the brunt of apartheid brutality.
On June 16, we commemorate Youth Day and remember the roles of young people in our country’s liberation. On this day we honour the more than one hundred young people that were martyred in the 1976 anti-apartheid education protests. On this day we also celebrate the boldness of the young lions of the 1980’s who said, “Freedom or death, victory is certain” and who undertook successive acts of resistance under the militant leadership of a then young Peter Mokaba, despite severe state militarisation and repression. Their blood and sacrifices contributed to the beginning of South Africa’s negotiations in 1990.
As we look at the ages of the political leadership at that time, no one can dispute that many were under the age of 35. Our own current President, Cyril Ramaphosa was a youth when he became the General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers and had not yet reached the age of 40 when political negotiations started. Our history is filled with examples of the indisputable capabilities of youth to be dynamic drivers of positive change.
The time has come for us to entrust our youth with more leadership responsibilities in our country. More than 60 percent of our population are youth. Solutions to our ailing economy, our bulging service delivery deficit, growing social ills and the immediate challenge of managing the Covid-19 pandemic, cannot be attained without the innovation and energies of this huge, youthful, resource pool.
In particular, we will never escape our developmental impasse without successfully exploiting the opportunities arising from the digital era. This compels us to draw on the knowledge, skills, and experiences of those who were born into it.
A deterrent from allowing our youth to occupy their rightful space in the leadership of society is that they are facing many challenges. These challenges, however, are integrally linked to the broader socio-economic challenges facing the country. Accordingly, the challenges should not deter, but inspire. Young people should be inspired to build on the positive developments carried over from the generations before it, and to reconstruct, in areas where their predecessors have erred.
The anti-racism protests are demonstrating the capabilities of young people to destroy archaic systems. Creating and sustaining alternative, more humane, and just systems demand even more effort and global synergy. The dynamism required to drive the creation of a better world, must largely come from our youth.
Frantz Fanon states that, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it”. The current generation of youth can only fulfil its historic mission through asserting a greater leadership role in society, today.
* Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.