The complexity of South African youth and the black condition
Throughout the month of June, we saw several youth ‘celebrations’ pertaining to one of the most significant turning points in our history – June 16. The fact that we still refer to this day as a “happy” one, needs to be rethought. We need only to commemorate it as a way to remind ourselves that the struggles which the 1976 youth stood up for, persist today.
There is a lot more to the lives of Black South African youth, the conditions that do not make it to breaking news. For example that of young women living in fear of being abducted by men in public spaces. Cultural practices like Ukuthwalwa which allow men to force young women to marry without their consent. Many of the women forced into the practice have cried out for help yet, they are subjected to traumatic experiences of sexual assault. Many have tried to escape, but their efforts have fallen flat and their dreams are cut short all in the name of patriarchal values.
There are young people whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS. They are heading households and know no other life than that of a hustler responsible for their younger siblings. These young people have left school, put their aspirations on hold and have become victims to the exploitation of casual labour. Deep down they are sore – as they have lost the role that, a parent plays in their own upbringing.
The lived reality of navigating a life of unrest in gang-infiltrated neighbourhoods remains a traumatic ordeal for youth. They have experienced the rise in organised violence between gang groups with each group wanting power, influence and more turfs over the other. They have to fear for their lives being caught in the middle of conflict. There are constant interactions with gang leaders on the lookout to recruit more youngsters, appealing to their need for belonging.
As we move forward, we cannot lose sight of such scourges and many others confronting the youth, mostly those in the outskirts of the country. The majority of Black young people are marginalised from most avenues – economic, social and political, making it hard for their daily challenges and voices to make it to the mainstream.
The plights particularly of black South African youth run far deeper than being simply identified as seized by drug and alcohol as it is often the case. They do not want a seat at the table, but would much rather reconstruct a new one, as the foundation of that existing table is already a system of continued oppression.
The youth, as a response to their experiences of being excluded and silenced, have created social movements termed as that of Fallists, challenging the status quo. Within these movements, young people have expressed that the conditions of the Black body, queer and female have throughout the years been that of suppression and inequality. This is where the youth reframes the existing narrative of ‘Black resilience’. Blacks should not have to struggle in the first place and the pain experienced can no longer be normalised.
There have to be other ways of a discourse on young people rather than what they make up in the population, often looked at for election purposes. It is the generation that has been fed with the Vuk’uzenzele (Get up and do it yourself) rhetoric by government. It created the impression that the conditions would be easier for driving Africa’s progress and that there would be more of other alternatives, or prospects. Government strategies and programmes spoke of youths’ ‘energy’ and ‘creativity’ only to find that there was a border that only a few can cross. It is the youth that continuously debunks the indoctrinated myth of the ‘new’ South Africa – a myth that is not even a reality for those dubbed as ‘born frees’.
There should be a conscious decision not to cast minds away from the violence (physical, systematic and otherwise) on the young Black body. We cannot allow for the misrepresentation of their pain, nor can we continue to silence it. It is rather a time to forge ways to change the socioeconomic ills inherited by the youth.
Siphokuhle Mkancu is a communications and advocacy intern at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR). This article was first published in the IJR Newsletter