Three years ago, in one of his more inspiring and intellectually stimulating pieces titled ‘The African youth should fulfill their own mission’, the irrepressible Sentletse Diakanyo made an impassioned plea to the African youth to stand up and participate in the economy and politics of their respective countries; after all they stand to inherit them. Known to be a man who shoots straight no matter how uncomfortable the truth is, Diakanyo does not disappoint in this piece. He writes thus: ‘The African youth should not allow their leaders to pacify them with pronouncements on meaningless policies and programmes. Their mission should be to reclaim political power from all these old men who have no sense of purpose and urgency to commit towards the renewal of African through implementation of political and economic reforms.’
Just seven days before the fifth democratic general elections on 7 May 2014, Sandile Memela published an article titled ‘Let the youth take over the ANC’ on Thought Leader; the same platform that Diakanyo had written for until late 2013, stressing a point the latter had raised three years earlier, although Memela focused his on South Africa. I cannot imagine that the elderly citizens lounging at Luthuli House read this particular piece with enthusiasm. It is safe to assume that Memela will not be receiving an invitation for tea and scones from Luthuli House anytime soon.
The opening sentence of Memela’s article captures and emphasises so perfectly the unquestionable importance of youth in any society. It also answers the question that might be bothering the reader about the choice of the title. He remarks thus: ‘The duty of the young is to improve upon the past which is, largely a world created or messed by their parents.’ I know of no one who paints this inevitable world better-that Sandile Memela speaks of-than the astute Prussian intellectual Karl Marx. In the second paragraph of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx paints with sadness this mundane world that is constantly punctuated by the repetition of past mistakes: ‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.’ The solemn words of Marx should wake the young people of this country from their slumber and lethargy. If they choose to sit back and allow the elders to destroy what is rightful theirs, what kind of society will they inherit tomorrow? In what state will the country be in tomorrow if they continue to turn a blind eye to the blunders and indiscretions of their parents? Perhaps the young people of this country have never sat down and reflected on this matter. What will they tell their young ones when they ask: ‘Mommy where were you when the country’s economy was being destroyed?’ How will they respond when the future generation asks: ‘Daddy, how could you let them do this to our beautiful land?’
One does not have to look far to see how South Africa’s young are being manipulated and undermined by their elders. Take the Youth Employment Bill. On paper it seems like a perfect solution. The bill is meant to encourage companies to hire young people, especially those who have just graduated from colleges and universities; granting them a chance to gain experience. Like I said, on paper it is a noble idea although I fail to understand why companies should be reminded to invest in young people. Government is spoiling big business ad nauseam.
Now let us look at in practice. In reality government is coughing up huge sums of money to pay these companies so they could employ the youth for twelve months and then afterwards regurgitate them like unwanted food. In simple English government is bribing the private sector to hire the future of South Africa, the rightful heirs of this land. Mind-boggling stuff I tell you.
Here is the interesting part: majority of the young people struggling to find employment are Africans and the captains of South Africa’s big business are mostly whites. These are individuals who are still finding it hard to make peace with the fact that Africans are running government. Why hire children of the people they see as incompetent, lazy, promiscuous and useless amongst other things? As Verwoerd famously said, and I paraphrase: why teach a native Mathematics when he is not going to need it? That belief is still alive and rampant in the minds of these people who are constantly flashing us with pretentious smiles. Africans are good for one thing: doing menial work for their white masters. It is a pity our government, our parents and elders have allowed this backward mentality to flourish. The youth of 1976 saw this injustice and took it upon themselves to make sure they were heard. In 2014, what are you the young people and future of South Africa going to do? Kgotsong!