South Africa

Reflections

Youth Day 2020: Where are the voices of young South Africans during this pandemic?

While many young people may feel a sense of helplessness and frustration amid a stagnating economy and corruption cases making headlines daily, some are ensuring they don’t swell the numbers as they explore entrepreneurship. However, numerous barriers to progress remain in South Africa. (Image source: Tom Barrett/Unsplash)

It’s about that time of the year again, when adults cram themselves into too-small school skirts, uncomfortably tight white buttoned school shirts and relive the glory days of their youth in an effort to celebrate Youth Day. But this Youth Day, I question where the voices of the youth are in the country’s dialogue during this lockdown?

I wonder what the youth of the 1970s and 1980s think of the current crop of young people in South Africa? I wonder what those who protested in South African streets, those who went to jail and those who ultimately gave their lives for the Struggle, think about us, the young people of today. I wonder what they think of the generation that came after them – did they carry the baton forward to keep the flames alive for the #MustFall generation? 

I wonder if that generation is proud of all the generations that came after them – the young, bright faces of a new dispensation and now, the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall generation that has re-ignited that flame? Do they smile upon us, do they admire us? 

But most important, do they question us? 

As a young person of colour who works in the media, I question us – the generation who have continued to complete the circle our parents, family members and those in our communities have drawn up. I question why there are limits to the voices that are given prominence in the media space – why are voices of university educated people given more prominence than those who are merely high-school educated… and what about the voice of the homeless or lost youth? Where are the voices of the young people who are working in call centres, the ones who are saving up for tertiary education by working in various industries, where are the voices of those who are jobless, despite having qualifications? Where are the voices of young foreign nationals, the asylum seekers and refugees in our discourse? 

Especially during this pandemic, where are the voices of young people – the ones who work in supermarkets, where a lot of local transmissions of Covid-19 occurred in the Western Cape? 

How do the youth of today move forward, despite the socio-economic challenges that we face? I question how this new generation of young people can learn the lessons of a generation gone before them, who are still living with the post-traumatic stress disorder left behind by the apartheid regime. I question, where are the lessons of grassroots and smart activism taught – in the galley or in the halls of university classrooms? 

I question, most importantly, how these generations can work together so that the generations that come after us live in a better and more inclusive society. DM

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