Khaya spoke at The Daily Maverick’s awesome conference, The Gathering, to a generally nodding audience. He painted a picture of a South African youth who is lost, consumed by consumerism and completely unconcerned with contributing to a positive outcome of our country. He asks, “… what are we fighting for? What is the mission of this generation besides partying? Is it the sole thing we have decided to dedicate ourselves to? What have we decided we will do? What is our North Star?”
On behalf of “the youth” which Khaya missed, I’d like to offer something. I would presume to represent them since no one else seems willing, and because they will probably never make it in the popular media in the way the “lost youth” Khaya talks about.
There are many of them who every day shape the direction of this country differently, and Khaya, dare I say, is one of them. They contribute to education, both financially and by giving their time in Langa and Khayelitsha. On a Friday night when they should be partying, they are at home preparing tutor notes for high school kids who are being failed by our education system.
These young people wake up early every day, to work on entrepreneurial ventures few people believe in, creating jobs and growing industries. They are in the arts, running galleries, dance companies and music studios. They are restaurateurs and fashion designers.
These young people are involved in the politics of the day; they take a stand for their beliefs in political and civil society organisations working on the trajectory on which their country is set.
They are visible in corporate South Africa, dealing in equities, researching consumer data, developing new products and representing people in the criminal justice system. There are young people across our country in linguistics and in literature.Many of these are pioneers in their chosen fields, many of them recognised internationally as opera singers, engineers and psychiatrists.
But the young people I talk about will not make it to the 7pm news, or the front pages of newspapers or into analysis pieces. Their quiet contributions will not cause a stir the way Steve Biko and Martin Luther King Jnr did, because they have no popular following, and lack the blood and the gore so characteristic of revolutions.
But there is no doubt that they are revolutionaries engaged in causes that will see our country improve. In my view, they represent the hope that so often eludes us as we hear and see the lost youth in the media.
Knowing people such as these as the norm rather than the exception (I have a long list of them, and if you would like a copy, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org), I wonder how there can be a general acceptance that the South African youth are lost and live without cause or ambition. How did it happen that they were eclipsed by those young people who are reflected in the media as Khaya describes: “[who] make a noise. [Who] shout. [Their] shouts have no substance. No wisdom”. How did they come to represent everybody else? Why has such cynicism prevailed when we should be drawing hope. Maybe that’s a topic for another day.
For now, the point is that the youth that was Steve Biko, Tsietsi Mashinini, Ingrid Jonker are not dead. In the words of Jonker, “The child grown to a man treks through all Africa, the child grown into a giant journeys through the whole world, without a pass.” DM
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