The youth have always stood in the vanguard of change. During the past few weeks, we have seen how the #BlackLivesMatter movement has gained momentum, and how the youth have removed symbols worldwide which remind us of slavery and colonialism.
I was in matric when the youth of 1976 rebelled against laws which prevented them from reaching their potential. Hector Pieterson was the first who paid with his life. Many matrics of 1976 could only write their exams the following year. But they did go on to study further, made a success of it, and helped South Africa to reform to a democracy.
The story of 1976 was masterfully retold by Elsa Joubert in her book The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena, which was named as one of the 100 most important novels in Africa. Fortunately, my students and I could see the film before the lockdown, after which I discussed the novel online. It is the story of an Afrikaans-speaking Xhosa woman who sacrificed everything to obtain a pass so that she could remain in her country legally in order to protect her family.
In the same way, a huge crisis confronts the youth of 2020. Covid-19 has brought much pain: many have lost loved ones; children go to bed hungry because their parents have lost their jobs; students have to cease their studies because their parents can no longer afford the class fees. As in 1976, the June exams have been cancelled, and the likelihood of passing matric this year and studying further is slim. With shrinking prospects of a better future, the youth is despondent. In poorer schools, large numbers of matrics have already given up and some are not currently attending classes.
Those who will not complete matric this year will struggle to find employment. Everything indicates that the unemployment among the youth that is already alarmingly high will increase further because many businesses have closed their doors. The cycle of poverty will continue. The youth are rightly concerned and critical of life. Our world, they say, is far from normal.
This leaves the class of 2020 with a huge task. To bring down statues is one thing, but the class of 2020 will have to go a step further and come up with solutions. Start with what YOU can do. You can study, you can pass matric. If not this year, then surely next year. Farfetched as it may sound, the current crisis offers many opportunities to the youth. You are good at the use of technology, computers and cellphones. Use this to your advantage and help to shape a new normal, an equitable and peaceful South Africa where everyone feels safe, one of which we can all be proud again.
It is with sadness that we heard that Elsa Joubert had died of Covid-19 last week, two days before Youth Day. Her voice has been silenced, but her words live on.
If I may quote Poppie: “…If my children are dragged into this, then that is what they were born for. And who can remove out of their way that which they were born for?” DM