Today is Youth Day in South Africa. A public holiday. You can read about it here.
On this day in 2009, I had moved back to Port Elizabeth from East London after my work contract had ended. I was interning and had the false belief that I was going to be hired full time. But that didn’t happen so I moved back home. I was sitting on the floor reading the local newspaper when I came across an article that made me extremely upset. I grabbed a pen and paper and immediately started writing. I have cut out some of the parts because the response is very long. Here’s what I wrote:
I would like to respond to the “Yoof” article published on Youth Day (June 16). I need to say something about it. I cannot speak for the many youths of South Africa, but I can speak for me and this is what I have to say:
Frankly, I am sick and tired of being compared to the youth of 1976. Please do not get me wrong here. I am not undermining the event in any way. I know all about 1976 and the intensity of the situation and the sacrifice made so that we can live a much much better life. I will always be eternally grateful for that. However, when you compare us to the youth of 1976, you are implying that we are not good enough. And that is not fair. We will never measure up to them. And what were the white youth of 1976 doing when all this was happening?
I generally don’t feel understood and appreciated by those older than me. You moan about how lost and superficial we are, but don’t you feel that parents have played a role in the way that you perceive us? I don’t know what the previous generations want from us because they only open their mouths to point out our faults and remind us of how we’re losing the plot, along with our roots. This kind of talk also extends to the workplace.
Let me tell you a bit about the youth of today: Some of us don’t like to think for ourselves, or prefer not to think for ourselves because we always have to do what we’re told. We take in whatever is fed to us because we will more than likely be dismissed for sharing our opinions. Yes, some of us do act grown up, but our minds aren’t. We don’t know what to do with the raging hormones and whatnot but if parents aren’t exactly going to advise us, then we will copy what we see on TV and do as our friends do. If you talk to us on our frequency and try to shift your mindset a bit, you will find that we’re not as stupid, ignorant or ungrateful as you think we are.
The majority of us are forced to study “proper” degrees so we can get “proper” jobs. By that I mean the B.Scs, the BComs and the likes. After that, we must make lots of money to help out our parents and family and flaunt our wealth so that people can talk about how well we’re doing and in turn make our parents feel proud of us. So excuse us for being obsessed with labels and nice cars and dreams of owning that mansion. God help you, if you choose to study languages or Art. Even if your parents seem ok with this, you’re bound to meet someone who thinks that people who study the Arts are wasting time.
We then go on to work for people who expect us to sit in an office from 9-5 everyday even when there is no work to be done. Nothing ticks me off more than wasting time at work because I’d rather be wasting time at home. If I’m at work, I should be there to work and if I’ve done everything before “home time”, I should be allowed to leave for the day. We have to deal with bitter colleagues who just don’t understand that we have a different way of doing things. Colleagues who are threatened by us for no apparent reason.
Anyway, the point is, it takes more than conversations with your son and some websites to find out what the youth is really thinking. It is not fair to look at the young politicians of South Africa and then conclude that we are all stupid and should not be taken seriously. I mean, if I was living in 1976, I would also lay down my life for my freedom. No doubt about that. But it’s 2009 and if I want to lie under my duvet all day for youth day because I feel burnt out or I need a break or whatever, I think I’m entitled to do so.
For the record though, I did not lie under my duvet all day. I did not go boozing or partying or anything like that. I wrote this letter and am working on 2 articles (one about youth day) to post on the website that I write for. You say: “Our youth stirred themselves to get to the polls, but they were probably motivated by the desire to get someone else to sort out their problems.” Yes, that statement will definitely get me off my arse and “take to the streets” for the sake of my education. Come on now!
I’ll admit, there are many things I do not understand about the youth myself, but I do have dreams and they aren’t superficial in the least bit. We are not all airheads. I am part of a team whose vision is to get the youth talking and thinking about our country and our continent. I am one of the estimated 2,6 million 15-24 year old unemployed youths. I am turning 25 on Women’s day. I am selfish because my focus is on getting myself on my own two feet before I can do for others. I don’t feel bad about that at all. Less finger-pointing at our flaws, I think.
Unathi Nopece, Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth