On Saturday 12 August 2017 armed man attacked Social Development MEC Albert Fitz and his body guards in Nyanga, resulting in one of the robbers being killed and another wounded thanks to the highly trained bodyguards who are members of the South African Police Services. The MEC was a keynote speaker at a youth event and this incident happened whilst waiting outside the venue.
This was certainly a traumatic experience for the MEC. On the various interviews the MEC gave in the aftermath, he expressed shock that 23 years into our democracy such things could still happen in our communities. The arrogance and sense of impunity of the robbers shocked the MEC the most. He could not believe that so many people come to work in such environments where their lives are threatened and intimidated every day.
Whilst the ordeal was certainly traumatic for the MEC, his responses however were worrying from someone who is tasked to drive effective policies for places such as Nyanga. He showed ignorance and unconsciousness of the realities that the residents of Nyanga live under every single day.
The same day, across the divide, in Bishop Lavis, a youth leader Chrissandra Opperman was shot in the head returning from church in ongoing gang violence that has had no credible andsuccinct plan from MEC Fitz and the provincial government. It is now clear that the Provincial government has absolutely no clue as to what residents in the townships and cape flats go through every day because they only show up to make speeches and to view a dead body after an outcry on social media.
Was the robbery on the MEC a rude awakening that was necessary? No it was not. He should have known better. In places like Bonteheuwel and Nyanga, prison records have been passed down from father to son for more than a generation. Young people hangout on corners in their khaki pants and all-star sneakers, stamping the ground in a desultoryrhythm, dealing in drugs and doing them, hustling and surviving on the streets whichever way they can. The hustling daily leads to boys crippled before their prime. It hardens them. Guns and drugs stop frightening them. Boys slip beyond rescue. Even the so-called good kids realize they are not safe. They start looking out for themselves. There are 15 year olds making their own rules. The parents and the elders have given up on them. They are also afraid. You’ve got to be afraid of someone who just does not care, it doesn’t matter how young they are.
Despite this reality, with a conscientized government on these realities, with concrete programmes that are real and measurable, young people can still set the terms of their own development. You can think of a 10 year old who has always wanted to be a doctor or a professional athlete scampering about the dry and broken fields of Bishop Lavis, if he ended up in a gang or jail that would not prove his essence, his blackness, a wayward gene, but maybe a consequence of his malnourished world.
What is it that attacks these young people’s dreams so that eventually they see no realistic way of reaching them? Despite the dashing of dreams however, the young people still care about something;’Respect’. In the streets respect is defined differently and it is earned through deeds, however evil. Sometimes going to jail and earning your stripes is how respect is earned. So anything that seeks to rescue these young men from the streets has to appeal to respect.
If we had a responsible Provincial and Local government what could be some of the solutions to this plight? Without stable families, with no prospect for work, education is still their last best hope. With township schools that run out of text books and toilet papers, teachers striking and an indifferent provincial government that does not seem to care, why should kids stick around at school?
Of course the biggest source of resistance is rarely talked about – namely, the uncomfortable fact that every one of our churches, mosques and communal spaces is filled with teachers, principals, and School Governing Body members. Few of these educators send their own kids to public schools. They know too much for that. But they would defend the status quo with the same skill and vigour as their counterparts of the decades before.
What you tend to hear daily is that these learners are impossible, lazy, unruly, and slow. Of course it would be added that it’s not the children’s fault. Certainly not the school’s fault either. As you walk into the schools in the townships and the cape flats, you immediately feel a careless, impersonal feel. Bare concrete, pillars, long stark corridors, windows that could not be opened and had already clouded, a prison. It seems townships schools are just holding pens or miniatures jails.
Its only when black children start breaking out of their pens and bothering the government that society even pays any attention to the issue of whether these kids are being educated.
Then there is the issue of the school curriculum that says nothing about the child’s environment or life. What could education in black townships entail? It would have to start by giving a child an understanding of himself and his world, his culture, his community. That’s the starting point of any educational process. That’s what makes a child hungry to learn. The promise of being part of something, of mastering his environment.
But for a black child everything seems upside down. From day one, he must learn someone else’s history. Someone else’s culture. Not only that, this culture he is supposed to learn is the same culture that is systematically rejecting him,rejecting his humanity. It is no wonder the black child loses interest in learning.
In every society, young men are going to have wild tendencies. Either those tendencies are directed and disciplined in creative pursuits or those tendencies destroy young men, or the society, or both.
Programmes to start a counselling network, to provide at risk teenagers with mentoring and tutorial services and involve parents in a long-term planning process for reform must be started in earnest.
We need a provincial and local government that actually wants to solve these problems, not for self-interest or self-preservation, but because it’s what society expects of its own government.
Khalid Sayed is Western Cape Provincial Chairperson of the ANC Youth League