When I think of June 16 1976, I – like most South Africans raised in democratic SA (with the exclusion of nationalistic individuals of all races who do not really care about the sacrifices made for democracy) – automatically imagine myself running from a tank or machine gun fire during the Soweto Uprising and other fights and protests by the youth against the monster of Apartheid. For the sacrifices all those young ladies and gentlemen made, a holiday was made commemorating this struggle.
Now I sit in my bedroom in my family house in the suburb of Northcliff, wondering what happened to the promise and vision of the people of 1976. I mean as I write this, South Africa is in a serious crisis. I am presently thinking of an Afrikaans word that describes the situation but due to fact that this blog is kosher, I will leave it for you dear reader to guess for yourself.
Now you are probably wondering why I wrote about my house and the location of it. Well, it’s so you can have a view of my background – I’m probably what most would describe as a black Middle Class individual in a bit of a different manner to most other members of this class grouping, parents are both Academics (well, in a way: mom’s a researcher, dad’s a professor). Went to Model C Primary and High Schools (Grades 3 – 12, having lived outside of South Africa before that), and am now at the seemingly prestigious University of the Witwatersrand (since 2012), studying Social Sciences… To be honest, to me I’m a guy from a family that has a house and is educated (although I have serious objections to the method of education used in South Africa). However (and here’s the best part), South Africa is my motherland, but Nigeria is my fatherland. I am Nigerian by birth and thus by citizenship, and South African by naturalization and upbringing. Therefore, dear reader, my perspective is simultaneously that of an insider and an outsider to this society that we live in.
Last year, I took a course in History taught by the amazing Prof. Clive Glaser (he’s a complete legend) on the making of South Africa, from 1800 – 2013. We spent two weeks to a month if I am not mistaken, looking at the role of the youths in their varying capacities (student, revolutionary, gangster, worker, etc.) in either continuing or ending Apartheid. I came to this odd conclusion at the end of that section of the course: Today’s South Africans are super complacent and only know how to complain, moan and groan about their problems and the problems they experience, waiting on the state (whom I think most view as a messenger from God – no offence to the parties involved in the state) to save them, instead of making an effort to change things.
Fair enough, we South Africans are a bit too radical due to the nature our country, one born out of a complicated negotiated peace settlement to avert civil war and complete wholesale racial genocide and we are very much dependent on the state for public goods and services, so our self-constructed actions of protest often result in destruction of the very services we minimally have and are requesting more of or the credibility of the individuals asking for these services, with the state often just struggling to keep up with the challenges its people faces and having to clamp down on the people because it’s duty is to keep and maintain order. The toilet saga in Cape Town (which culminated in folks placing human waste at the airport), and the service delivery protests in some areas of Gauteng (which always seem to leave foreigners’ shops looted, homes attacked and people dead along with the destruction of some of the infrastructure needed) are just some of the events that come to mind.
So, let’s agree on this, we as South Africans, are a radical bunch of different groups of people with different ideas on the best way to “live and strive for freedom in South Africa our Land”. But in the end, we all want the same thing, regardless of race, class or ethnicity: A South Africa where we can raise our next generation safely with knowledge that they will have better lives than we did. If that is not your hope or vision, then this blog piece is especially for you and will hopefully give you some important things to consider..
Back to the story of Youth Day. On June 16 1976 a whole army, I mean crowd, of young people gathered to non-violently protest Afrikaans being the language of instruction for education in schools and the apartheid state opened fire on them, killing many and causing a chain of events that would later cost this state much of it’s international credibility (even from its staunchest allies who were trying to contain the evil of Communism – because killing children whom are unarmed does not do much to advance you in your fight against political ideology). The result; the youth joined in the fighting against (or for) apartheid in different ways, some non-violently (student protests, student activism, literature, etc.), and others violently (youth gangs, black on black violence, etc.). The end result of this chain and series of events was a stalemate (especially once the Soviet Union fell and the West was focused on freedom and democracy) between those that wanted apartheid gone and those that wanted it to remain.
The lesson I think we South Africans should have learnt was that we did not get our freedom by sitting on our backsides complaining about the circumstances! Honestly, if that was all the known and unknown anti-apartheid activists did, we would still have apartheid, and I (and people like me) would not be able to post pieces like this without fear of the state killing us. No, our freedoms were won through dissatisfaction and doing something about about that dissatisfaction! The inspiration of the youth of ’76 sparked a fire that burned for the next twenty years in different ways (not always positive – many of the lash backs between CODESA and 1994 were carried out by dissatisfied youth), culminating in three events – 1. the CODESA conferences, 2. the first democratic elections, and there after 3. the creation of The 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.
I was fortunate to have interesting teachers for Social Sciences in Grades 4 and 5. They taught us the story of Youth Day using a Christian Biblical Metanarrative, which to this day I still remember and have gone as far as to expand upon, as you will soon see.
So, my teachers explained Youth Day as follows: “Young people were not happy about being taught in Afrikaans so they protested about it and were shot and killed by the government, Hector Pieterson was the first casualty and the person that carried his body vanished and has never been heard from again.” Okay fine, still following the Department of Education’s Script with certain elements that would make any crime novel interesting… “However,” my Grade 4 teacher (a devout Jew who seemed to have been showing signs of secularization or Mesiahization at the time) would continue, “they were not the first or only people that tried to oppose such oppression in South Africa or the world and I am more than certain they were afraid.” He would then speak of how the future is in the hands of the youth and we should take example from characters in the Bible and he would list names of people that were young and afraid but did much for their people and did right in the eyes of God – Gideon (the guy that led a group of 300 men that lapped water like dogs – only God knows why he <God, not Gideon> set that as the test for who would join the marching party); David (the most memorable Bible character besides Jesus himself – the boy that killed a giant and spent his young adult life on the run from an angry king); Daniel (another memorable biblical character, the man thrown into the lion’s den for refusing to bow to an idol); Esther (definitely among the bible’s most memorable women, only dwarfed in importance by Mary Christ’s mom, Mary Magdalene and Delilah, the ultimate cautionary tale to men on a woman’s seductive powers); and lastly two important gloom and doom prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah (both of whom started their ministries off extremely young).
My Grade 5 teacher (an Afrikaaner Christian woman) would say the exact same Department of Education scripted lines, before commenting on how she believes that God is telling her that this generation (the one of the kids sitting in her class) are the ones that will change the country instead of just complaining forever and doing squat (which in a way I am contributing to with this blog post). She would mention Daniel and how he stood up to a king, Timothy and how he was a young church leader and Josiah, the boy king that served God until he had a terrible case of pride. Personally, I still feel to this day that she was under the effects of freedom fighter nostalgia combined with religious belief and a need to inspire the students to pass a section of work that was depressing and filled emotional touchy subjects, more than I believe God did speak to her. But that aside…
So over the years, I worked on a theory, a quasi-religious analysis of South African society based on the Judeo-Christian framework my teachers gave me in my understanding of Youth Day, along with the Christian religious belief that my parents raised me with. It borrows from two case studies of biblical characters transposed on the South African populous. And no, nowhere in this article will I make claims about religious superiority or damnation, because personally I feel it is not my place to do so. But I will conclude with a judgment on we the youth and how best we the youth can recover the promises of 1976 and how South Africa at large can assist us with it. So when you are ready, let’s get to it:
South Africa may potentially be full of Gideons and Jeremiahs, just that they are still hiding in the threshing fields and afraid to step out.
Gideon was just a ‘kid’ who was hiding in the threshing fields when God called him to free the Israelites from the oppression of the Midianites. He was the youngest in his family and his clan was the weakest out of the smallest tribe in Israel – Manasseh (if memory serves me well). Jeremiah, on the other hand was the son of a priest who God told him he had picked to speak God’s will and words to the nations whom – although more accepting of his destiny than Gideon – was still afraid because of his youth and inexperience.
Come to think of it, both of these men lived in an era where their taking courage would cost them hugely. Sure, they both wanted change, and to fulfill the destinies that God commanded for them, but they were undoubtedly afraid.
Kind of like the situation in SA today. We have a nation full of people that want change, yet are too afraid to step out in faith to make and, more importantly, to be that change. And it’s not just the Youth who have forsaken the sacred flame of freedom and progress that was reignited in 1976; adults and old folk are also to blame. They are often so set in their ways that they will complain forever and ever about the way the country is going to the dogs, etc., etc., while not daring to step out and do something because they are afraid they will fail and/or be looked down upon by their companions.
Basically, everybody-wants-to-change-the-world-but-nobody-is-willing-to-die-for-the-change-they-want syndrome is affecting SA in this day and age.
Back to the youth of 1976 that we celebrate today, they knew the risk they were taking by opposing the beast that was the apartheid state, yet they took that risk, even though it cost many of them their lives.
Come democracy, it seemed like the willingness to achieve the things needed by South Africans for the country to progress evaporated in the heat of the culmination of years, along with the sacrifices of the millions to get us there. Yes, many of us became free-riders on the backs of the dead, maimed, and unknown heroes that gave their all and their tomorrows for our todays (as a monument in a World War II museum puts it).
In my opinion, dear reader, we have free-ridden long enough and need to take action. Open your eyes and see the reality, the fragile negotiated agreement of CODESA is falling apart and the social fabric of the country is falling apart.
As an exercise, think of a list of what you feel to be the 10 greatest achievements of the South African government from 1994-2014, then do the same for what you feel are its biggest failures before thinking of the different ways in which you think these failures can be addressed.
Dear reader, you have just taken the first step to being the change in South Africa that we so desperately need because until the people of South Africa recover their belief in the promise of change and their ability to enact change, as well as physically enact it, we won’t go anywhere.
Now, to conclude this (long) blog post I will say the following: The belief that the youth are the future is absolute bollocks. Why? It’s rather simple. The youth are our today, and we live in the here-and-now! Because of our youthful ignorance, very few of us live with the long-term in mind (they say it changes once we reach the age of 25?).
With this fact in mind, that the youth live for the now, why can’t we have our leaders train them to be successful in the now, while with them living in the now, implementing the logic of them being the future?
And what is it with education and South Africa? No, what is it with education in Africa in general? I mean, Africa has the world’s youngest population and education is a must-have so the people do not grow up bored and without a future ambition. South Africa is presently in a “My XYZ is Larger than yours” completion with Nigeria for the rank of African hegemony (which, for the time being, South Africa is winning on almost everything except size of the economy).
Sorry for the crudeness, but I am a youth. Why doesn’t South African state focus on providing quality (and by that I do not mean free a dilapidated building that lacks sufficient infrastructure and learning material) Primary and Secondary education for all, where the only expenses accrued by parents or guardians are school uniforms and workbooks? They could partner up with a number of private companies to make this work. I mean if the youth are educated properly, more of them are employable and more have skills to start their own businesses and be innovators, right?
Lastly, what is it with Africa and healthcare? I’m not going to gripe here, dear reader, because by now your mind must be full of ideas on how to change “South Africa Our Land”, but I will suggest that the state steps up its handling and management of public hospitals because the way they are presently being managed is rubbish. Or if the state is finding it too difficult to manage them, it can do these two things: 1. have hospital managers trained in private medical facilities so they can get a feel for how things are done there, while at the same time 2. creating a health insurance that works efficiently (not like the present National Health Insurance thing being done, it’s also horrible and will chase most South African medical professionals away) like ObamaCare (regardless of the opposition people have towards it).
Trust me on this one; with healthcare and education covered, the youth can make changes and hopefully be radical in a manner that does not involve excessive destruction of the facilities they want and need, while at the same time participating in the creation of the goods and services they want and need.
Remember, remember, the 16th of June and the Spirit behind it – of Freedom and Future – that one must progress.
A guest piece by Vincent Obisie. Student. Youth of
South Africa. Visionary.