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.
The lived reality of navigating a life of unrest in gang-infiltrated neighborhoods 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.
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.
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 marginalized 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.
After the rhetoric and cosmetics of the day have passed, we, as a nation, must ask why we lack urgency in dealing with the various youth challenges. We must ask ourselves why have we relegated our own civic duties to change the youth situation primarily to government and remain reactionary?
As YEISA a non profit organisation we dealing with youth die hard challenges, we have reached a point of dangerous complacency in relation to various youth challenges, where we do a great deal of lip-service to challenges rather than practical measures to mitigate and work towards solving the issues.