Most articles on Youth Day spew the same rhetoric. The article starts with a mandatory reference to the plight of the thousands of young black South Africans who took to the streets on June 16 1976, followed by the usual trend of admonishing the current youth for our supposed indifference to the magnitude of Youth Day and the history of apartheid. The writer then subsequently encourages us through thinly-veiled disdain to take charge of our lives and not squander the sacrifices made for us through idle pursuits.
It has never occurred to these writers and columnists that what has been viewed for years as the born frees indifference to Youth Day, is simply our inability to connect with the events surrounding June 16 and indeed apartheid as a phenomenon entirely. Though we may have grown up listening to stories about the heroics of the anti-apartheid freedom fighters, the brutal acts of institutionalized racism and the indignity of life under the apartheid regime for people of colour. We cannot fully connect with these apartheid related experiences because those are the stories of the generation(s) before us.
I realized this when I was attending a workshop a few weeks ago and the facilitator told us to name huge newsworthy events in the last few years that we have personally considered important. Everyone attending the workshop was an undergraduate student between the ages 18 and 22, and not one of us mentioned the death of former President Nelson Mandela as a news event that impacted us greatly as individuals.
The attendees offered stories like the Oscar Pistorius trial, Fees Must Fall , and Donald Trump’s presidency, yet we all failed to mention stories related to the decline of our formerly glorious liberators, the African National Congress or to the passing of its leaders such as Ahmed Kathrada. It dawned on me then that although we are the inheritors of the South Africa Mandela and his ilk envisioned and fought for. We do not have the fervent connection to apartheid triumphs Youth Day columnists feel we should have because those triumphs are not part of our narrative as a generation.
To fully understand this, we should also consider the definition of a ‘generation’. Aside from being a collective term employed to describe a group of people in the same age bracket living at the same time; a generation is also comprised of major events, periods or phenomena that is specific to a certain time in history and to the people alive during that time. From this, it is obvious to note that it is impossible for the current youth to connect with the narrative of the one before it because the world has forged on ahead and presented the current youth with stories and events of their own. Furthermore I believe that June 16 1976 belonged to the youth of the previous era, and October 22 2015 belongs to the youth of this one.
The #FeesMustFall movements that began on October 22 2015 and have since gripped the nation over the last two years, proves that young South Africans are not apathetic to their environments and are willing to fight against injustice and inequality with just as much fervour and defiance as their June 16 counterparts. Youth Day columnists fail to realise that we may seem indifferent to Youth Day simply because the date itself holds little meaning for our present realities. We are disconnected from the date, but we are not apathetic towards the plight young South Africans faced then and continue to face now.
In the future, once we have welcomed a new generation of South Africans into the world, we must remember that although it is important to share our history with them, we cannot force them to connect with events they have not witnessed or been a part of. More importantly, we cannot accuse them of apathy when they are unable to connect with these events in the same way as those who are older than them. We may pay homage to these events but we must allow the youth to shape their own narratives and to attach to their story a date of their own.
Written by Tammy Fray