Time for tough love
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We need to transform the mindset of black youths and offer them guidance so they can take responsibility for their destiny, says Sandile Mamela.
The debate on the freedom (or lack thereof) of 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 into being perpetual whiners who 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 including 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 black youth.
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 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 as to how black youth should deal with this challenge. We are all in a situation where we must do the best we can with what we have.
The first step is for 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 has 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 black youths internalise the inspirational words of Nelson Mandela when he said “the power is in your hands”.
In fact, we need to tell young people that if they have neither purpose nor personal vision by the time they turn 25, they have no business to expect anything from anyone.
Now that we are a 21-year-old democracy, it is time for tough love.
Those of us who grew up under the jackboot of apartheid have always 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.
We were inspired and enlightened by stories of former slaves who believed in African-Americans making things happen for themselves.
We have 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 formerly young blacks who started in the rural areas and townships, but knew they did not have to end 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. It’s where you’re going that is more important.
We have witnessed thousands of youth from oppressed backgrounds who worked hard and 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 and professionals who occupy important positions of power.
These former youths who are today’s high-flyers in business, corporate, government and other spheres of life did not fold their arms to excel in the blame game and finger-pointing. They were driven by a hunger to succeed, whatever that means.
After 21 years of democracy and freedom, the youth must recognise that any child from a disadvantaged background can be “different”, can be a “somebody”, and can lead a meaningful and purposeful life to achieve his or her visions and dreams.
There is no way we can deny that black youth are confronted by hardship as they grow up in poverty in 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 always be with us.
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 nothing can stop us.
The youth must be taught to embrace the triumphant spirit of resilience.
We are victors, not victims.
In fact, they must learn to internalise the lesson that they can be more than 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 self-confidence and determination among black youth, we must not allow a situation where the youth resigns itself 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, turn them around to become super achievers through focus, discipline and hard work.
Young people must desire to make a success of their lives to be successful in defeating the system.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is that there are many who do not know how to do that. The first important beginning is to look at the example of those who have overcome their poor 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.
The government has done a great job in levelling the playing field.
Yes, more needs to be done.
But the great work begins with each individual taking responsibility for his or her own life.
Instead of workshops and summits where youth rage at the machine, it is time we spent more time and energy 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 money, only.
It is time now to speak more on some of the steps that will take the youth from being victims to powerful beings who control their own destinies.
We all know that in today’s South Africa, the son of a factory worker, tea girl or a messenger can be anything he wants to be, if he puts the time, energy and life into it.
It will never be enough to define the fault lines that are the problems we face, that everyone faces: dispossession and land loss, economic inequality and prejudice.
It is time we move on to finding solutions and how 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 visions and dreams.
You are what you think or what you want to be.
This country is full of black youths from the rural areas and townships who have struggled - not in the political sense - to overcome the challenges of life.
Let us look at them for inspiration and direction to understand that whatever obstacles youths 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, Steve Biko, Zuma and endless others can do it, anyone can do it.
It just takes self-awareness, willingness and determination.
The rules for success do not and will never change.
As 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 civil servant and author of Zenzele: Young Gifted & Free (African Narratives 2012)
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.