Recently, a TikTok challenge has emerged where teenagers dressed in black swarm malls and cause chaos and violence. Children as young as 12 partake in this challenge, where these large groups occupy the mall, causing fights, riding the escalators and are often drinking and smoking weed.
The challenge is called the “Luh Twizzy Challenge”, and the participants “Luh Twizzys”.
Being from Johannesburg, in an area adjacent to Brixton, I say that I “grew up in concrete”. As a child, I had no experience of playing in the streets with other children.
When I was in Grade Five, we moved to a small community in Vereeniging for two years. For the first time, I could walk to madressah, cycle in the streets with my friends and only go home at sunset.
When we moved back to Joburg, I was once again confined within the walls of our house.
There are very few safe public spaces where young people can go to just “hang out”. As a teen, I was at the mall almost every weekend because that was one of the only safe public spaces where I could see my friends without necessarily having to spend money.
It was a running joke that you’d see everyone you know at Rosebank Mall over the weekend, because that’s where everyone else went too. Our options were limited.
When I first saw news of “Luh Twizzys” online, there was a reply that stuck with me, though I just scrolled past at the time. It said, to paraphrase, “what do you expect when there are no public spaces for young people to go anymore?”. And this is true: there aren’t any. This is especially true for people in poorer communities, which is the case for most of South Africa.
Another reality is, as a result of the lingering effects of apartheid, it is poor black people who are the most affected. A look at low-income housing development plans shows rows and rows of shoebox houses, with no natural spaces or community centres included. Where are young people supposed to go?
Patterns throughout world history prove that where there is poverty, there will be crime and violence. With a youth unemployment rate of 61% and a national unemployment rate of 32.7%, it should not be a surprise that young people, who are often surrounded by crime and gangsterism, are looking to civil disobedience for entertainment. Would it make a difference if young people had access to safe public spaces?
I believe an increase in community-led public spaces would create change — even if it’s small. Places such as sports fields, public pools, skate parks and playgrounds, run by the local community, would provide a space for young people to go.
An even greater step would be to have classes (dance, boxing, swimming etc) led by community members which would teach young people skills and provide a space to meet other youth with similar interests.
Would it completely eradicate gangsterism and civil disobedience? Probably not. There is much work to be done in South Africa.
But it would allow young people to have safe public spaces where they can express themselves and see their friends. A small step towards positive change is still a step. DM