This year after seeing a poster for a themed boxing night for Youth Day, I realised: I hate what Youth Day has become.
The poster for a “Power to Youth” boxing night at R250 a ticket sent a flurry of thoughts through my mind, thoughts that have been building in the back of my mind over years. I hate what Youth Day has become; with government officials and politicians wearing tight-fitting “school uniforms” while babbling about how the “Youth are the Future”. There are also the often lame attempts at dancing that must forever live on, haunting officials. But what is worse than government officials dancing is the public relations spin of “Youth Day” events where ticket prices are high or completely out of reach for job-seeking young people.
I hate it.
Growing up as a school child, Youth Day meant a long weekend and a Sarafina broadcast on etv. As a young adult, it meant realising that people — like my then 16-year-old mother — fought for justice during the 1976 youth uprisings, they fought for what is morally right despite legally enforced segregation. My mother rarely talks about what happened in 1976, when she and her fellow students marched in Cape Town but I understand things like inequality, hopelessness and anger which are often too difficult to put into words.
As I’ve gotten older and more empathetic (or woke as some might call me) I’ve realised that very few older people take the time to listen to young people. It’s the worst kind of condescension one can experience and it creeps in everywhere — from comments about how ‘young people don’t know what it was like in the past’ to ‘these young people just want to talk about their feelings and not work’. In government, it’s about how ‘young people must grab opportunities’ but when I’ve gone to municipal councils, I rarely see young people leading councils or heaven forbid, mayors.
Now as I watch countless advertisements about the latest party message or two-minute video by some politician telling young people they are the future, I think Youth Day has become an attempt to placate young people.
But young people in this country cannot be placated because several problems affect not only young people but society as a whole: 62% unemployment among young people, increased rolling blackouts, crime, poverty and climate change, which threatens the very existence of humanity. How dare we forget how each year, university students and staff alike protest over fees?
Although, looking past the negativity that comes with being a young person in South Africa, there are a few sprouts or cabbages of joy — from those speaking loudly in front of big stages telling adults to step aside for the youth to take centre stage. One of these young people Otsile Nkadimeng did exactly this when he spoke at this year’s Daily Maverick The Gathering: Earth Edition.
There are amazing young people like Siphosile Maseko who turned to agriculture when his dream of becoming a forensic pathologist did not work out.
But it’s not just individuals who try and turn the negativity into positivity. Organisations like the National Youth Coalition are organising a Youth Day Parade for Justice and Change for the second time in a row in a bid to demand answers from those in power. They will be marching to the Union Buildings on Friday 16 June where they will host not only a parade but a full programme with artists, activists and civil society organisations.
So, as a public service announcement, let us remember Youth Day this year, it is not about “the youth are the future” or nauseating attempts at incorporating Youth Day into another PR campaign or expensive concerts and boxing fights. This year, we need everyone to start engaging with the youth in practical ways, like sharing job opportunities or mentoring younger colleagues; gently offering young people in need used clothes for job interviews or creating spaces for intergenerational leadership. DM