Maverick Citizen


Pass the Baton – it’s time for young people to really take over

Pass the Baton – it’s time for young people to really take over
The author says that through engagements with hundreds of young people it is known that having at least one caring adult can shape a person’s educational and life outcomes in a positive way. (Photo: Christopher Furlong / Getty Images)

‘Young people’s prospects have been blighted by their unstinting sacrifice for the elderly. As after the world wars, we owe them a better future. Our societies have done what they can to rescue the elderly. Now we also need to rescue the young people.’ Ian Goldin, ‘Rescue: From Global Crisis to a Better World’, 2021.

June is Youth Month. In its wisdom, the government has already declared its theme in 2022 to be The Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke: Growing youth employment for an inclusive and transformed society”. 

To 99.9% of young people, this theme will sound like gibberish. It won’t inspire. It won’t galvanise. Even if people do know what it means, it won’t be believed.

This makes it all the more important that last week at the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto a group of young people, from a diverse group of civil society organisations, held a media briefing to declare their plans for a mass “Youth Parade for Justice and Change to the Union Buildings” on 16 June. 

See our report here: “Young people to hold Youth Day Parade at Union Buildings for ‘responsibility, equality, and gender and climate justice’”

AKF Youth Day Parade – June 16th – Poster

They announced that 76 organisations had already supported the parade and more were joining by the day.

According to Irfaan Mangera, from the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation Youth Programme, the objective of the parade is to “reclaim the legacy of June 16th”. 

Listening to the four young women and five young men speak was the first time I had felt hope and been inspired for a long time. Their language was bold and jargon-free, they were honest and spoke about shared values, and they aim for the parade to be as inclusive as possible, but from a position of principle located in the Constitution and the quest to advance all people’s human rights.

“Government has pushed us to the periphery,” said Omhle Ntshingila from the Right2Protest campaign. 

Unemployed graduates from KwaZulu-Natal and Pretoria gather at Burgers Park before marching to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to hand over a memorandum to officials demanding that the government find solutions to rising unemployment. (Photo: Gallo Images / Phill Magakoe)

“We have become so heartbroken by our democracy we don’t believe in it anymore. It only exists in our imaginations,” said Faeeza Lok.

However, they were not succumbing to despair, as many young people tragically have. “We didn’t come here to fear the future; we came to shape it,” she added. 

Unused capabilities and imagination

And given half a chance, young people are very capable of doing that. If only you look you will see that an enormous reservoir of talent, ideas, energy and innovation exists among young South Africans. But most of it is being denied an outlet.

June is Youth Month. In its limited wisdom, the government has already declared its theme in 2022 to be ‘The Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke: Growing youth employment for an inclusive and transformed society’. (Photo: / Wikipedia)

This weekend, I was a guest at a book club of young black pupils at a primary school in Jabulani, Soweto. The articulate 10- and 11-year-olds, smartly clad in school uniform, notebooks pressed in hand, introduced themselves and their ambitions: “When I grow up I want to be… a surgeon, an anthropologist, a firefighter, a dentist…” 

But, much as they were full of hope and belief, it broke my heart to hear one young boy say that because “my life is sometimes hard and painful I wish to commit suicide”.

He was not using a turn of phrase. He meant it. I wondered about his life. 

Environment Minister Barbara Creecy. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma)

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

This is why there needs to be hope at the end of education, rather than a dead-end or another political slogan. Society needs to act to open the doors to all young people as leaders and unlearn the belief that you have to be older than 50 to occupy a position of public leadership. 

A question posed by young activist Tessa Dooms is apposite. She asks:

“Are we ready to vote for a 25-year-old to be the president of SA? If your instinct answer is no, before knowing anything about such a person other than their age, it is worth asking what inherent biases we hold and presuppositions we make about young people that make their age a disqualifier for political leadership.”

Are you?

Sacrificed on the altar of old people’s mistakes

Young people have a right to question old(er) people’s leadership and complain because the situation they face – now and in future – is indeed a desperate one. 

To protect older people, they made huge sacrifices over the past two years of Covid-19. Oxford University professor Ian Goldin, for example, points out that “one-sixth of young people in the world lost their jobs in the second quarter of 2020” due to the Covid-19 lockdown, but the average age of mortality in the US, the UK and Europe was 82. In South Africa, the average age was well above 50. This was a necessary sacrifice, made in the interest of society. But there doesn’t seem to be any contract to pay them back. 

In 2022, large parts of the early childhood and basic education system remain badly broken; according to Statistics South Africa, seven out of every 10 young people are unemployed; there is hunger and malnutrition; there is anxiety, mental illness, addiction and suicide; there is crime perpetrated against children and the violence of young men on the bodies of young women and young men on each other

On top of all this, the worsening climate crisis means that even if by some miracle we fixed the present problems, things are going to get much worse. The 60-plus-year-old politicians who control our fate – ministers like Gwede Mantashe, Barbara Creecy and others, together with the businessmen who own the economy – seem prepared to bequeath an uninhabitable Earth to the young. 

By mid-2018, 19.7 million of South Africa’s 57.7 million people were children under 18 years. That’s one-third of the population. But because our young citizens don’t share all the political rights of adults – especially the right to vote – and because the media report on the world through their adult eyes, the war on young people is largely overlooked.

Further, despite the mess older people have made of the world, they are unprepared to cede power or change behaviours and economic policies that jeopardise young people. 

They hang on to power and privilege for dear life.

People from Eersterust during a Stop Violence Against Women March in Pretoria. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

As one corruption and maladministration scandal succeeds another, young people can be forgiven for not trusting any tried-but-not-to-be-trusted politician to do the right thing: the vast majority are deeply corrupted and conflicted, enmeshed in old ways of doing that can’t serve the future. 

They are unable to unlearn and reimagine. One day, perhaps, there should be an overage limit on public office.

For these reasons Maverick Citizen wishes the young activists and their June 16th Justice and Change Parade success. We support their call to business to help finance the parade and to people to join them on the day. 

In Youth Month 2022 we call on older people to listen to young people; place themselves in their shoes, appreciate their ambitions and talent, understand their pain – and make way for them to reshape the politics and economics of our country. 

Just as in 1976, we are at a watershed. Society as currently constituted can’t hold.

We hope the parade becomes a turning point in our politics and that young people begin to work collectively and fearlessly to reshape the future of South Africa and the world in the same way that the youth of 1976 did. DM/MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kb1066 . says:

    Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it into a fruit salad. Don’t write of experience.

  • Justin Hall says:

    I totally agree that there could be great benefits to tapping into qualified resources of younger people when it comes to plotting our futures. But having a 25 year old president would be a foolish idea, irrespective of the candidate. Why?

    Recent research has shown that the adult brain has only concluded its growth from adolescence at about the age of 25. Meaning that – irrespective of qualifications and experience – a 25 year old candidate has literally recently just taking their first steps as a true physiological adult and thus all of their experiences before this point will be viewed through the brain of a child/adolescent.

    Being an appropriately qualified president relies on having a wealth of experience to draw on in their decision-making and this is something that a 25 year-old simply cannot have.

    Quote: “It doesn’t matter how smart teens are or how well they scored on the SAT or ACT. Good judgment isn’t something they can excel in, at least not yet.

    The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so.

    In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.”

  • John Cartwright says:

    Yes indeed, but it’s really crass to blame ‘older people’ for ‘the mess [they] have made on the world’. Who are you referring to, Mark? Are we (I’m 84) by definition only a burden (to be ‘protected’), incapable of contributing anything useful? Is my knowledge and experience worth nothing, simply because you can count? This is outright ageism, and badly out of touch. I greatly admire your passionate activism in essential causes, but in this case you have fallen into a prejudicial dualistic trap that certainly will do nothing for the needs of the young.

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