By: Amukelani Mayimele*
“Young people don’t necessarily understand the challenges of governance and undoing 250 years of oppression and colonialism” were the words uttered by Keith Khoza, the spokesperson of South Africa’s leading and ruling party the African National Congress (ANC), responding to the controversial First National Bank (FNB) advertisements. Not only does this statement insult my intelligence as a young person but worries me that I actually have leaders who are not willing to listen to my concerns on the basis that I am young and do not understand. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand the struggles this country has been through and the time it will take to undo the effects of the past.
Let us assume that Keith Khoza is right, that I am a young person and do not understand the undoing of 250 years of oppression. Could it be because I don’t have the full picture of the struggle? Should I blame him for not teaching me what I needed to know? As an elder, was it not his responsibility to pass down the knowledge? What happened to this elder after 1994? Where is he now to fill the gaps? All I hear him do is grumble about the younger generations not knowing about pre-1994 and not understanding. Maybe this energy could be used to tell me about Ruth First. Tell me about the Morogoro Conference of 1969 – I want to know about that too. How about Ronnie Kasrils? Or did you forget that he was part of the struggle or did you only think that it was only relevant that I only know about “Mandela”? And what about Yusuf Dadoo? Did I have to find out myself that he died in exile and was buried a few metres away from the grave of Karl Marx, and that his dying words were “You must never give up, you must fight to the end.”
Were these words not supposed to have been passed down to me, by people who tell me today that I don’t understand undoing 250 years of colonialism? And what about Fatima Meer? Was she not one of the founding members of the Federation of South African Women, which spearheaded the historical women’s march on the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956? How come I don’t know about her? Anton Fransch? Is this not my history? Did someone not say you cannot know where you are going until you know where you come from? How much time did you invest to teach me this? Maybe and perhaps I do want to be involved in the undoing of these 250 years of oppression and colonialism. Maybe I want to play my part. Maybe I want to be led, maybe I want to help, but how do I support what I don’t even know? I don’t know where I fit in. I try to speak to you, you don’t listen. You only talk about how I don’t understand.
The truth is that your silence is too loud on issues that affect me as a young person. I think you are right that I do not understand, but what I do not understand is not the undoing of the oppression, but rather the silencing of my voice when I start to speak. FNB is filling a void left by the ANC, which seems resolute on silencing the young voices instead of offering a platform for expression. Maybe Tiara is fed up as a young person: shouldn’t she be? “Stop voting for the same government in hopes for change – instead change your hopes to a government that has the same hopes as us,” she advises. What is wrong with that statement? Isn’t it true? Shouldn’t you be proud of her for pausing to think for a while and questioning about where we are going as a nation? Shouldn’t you be happy that FNB is telling you how we feel, why does this upset you so much? You are right, I don’t understand your reaction to how I feel right now. How is my message unfair and unpatriotic? “FNB is unfairly using children to articulate a view that we don’t even know for sure is their own,” you tell us, Keith Khoza, representing the broad church of the ANC. How can you say that? How can you not even believe that we, as young people, feel this way? Do you think somebody who doesn’t like you feeds us things to say? I hope not, because I would be even more worried. Let’s face it. We are unemployed, Sir. Some of my friends have 3 or 4 degrees but still have no jobs. You tell us to be entrepreneurs instead. As if it this is an easy option and it is guaranteed to work. As if anybody can just wake up and start a business. As if the legislature is already in place and does not limit us. As if we don’t require funding to start those initiatives. As if we know how to start businesses but lack the will power to do so. I really don’t understand.
You don’t provide a platform for me to speak and when somebody does, you react adversely, but I’m still not heard. Are you so disconnected to me as a young person? I hear you questioning what the purpose of this campaign is, you say the campaign was scripted, but what if this is really how I feel? Why are you not talking about that? Maybe FNB does have an agenda and maybe they want to make money — since they are a corporate and that is what corporates do — or it could also be that they want to make a difference. I don’t know, but I do know that regardless of how this came out and who helped me script it or say it, that’s how I feel. Why are you not taking that part seriously? Why is that not even included in your script of questions? Do you even care about the future of this beautiful country?
Often I hear (older) people go on about how we are a lost generation. A generation with no purpose and maybe this is true; we could be a lost generation without guidance. We are lost in transition between yesterday’s struggles and the struggles of today. We cry out for help all the time. You don’t listen to us. You have no intention of pulling us from the pit. We are young and don’t necessarily see the future and we need good leadership yet we are forced to figure things out ourselves. Why aren’t you part of our growth? Why aren’t you concerned about our education? Don’t you see the crime stats, high rape incidents, substance abuse and the general anger we carry around as directly related to our frustration? Should we be talking to one another and not over each other? Where is our dream? Where is our South African Dream?
I am a young South African who loves her country beyond measure. I believe I am born for this time that requires transformational leaders to take position. I am driven by a desire to help address the challenges that affect young people, but I am not sure if my country values me and my voice. I want us to heal. I want us to get over being at each other’s throats. I want us to get along and build. I understand some of the progress achieved by the ANC and other leaders who took over government with no prior experience to lead. We are proud but we are not loyal. The youth of Mandela’s generation demanded that the struggle be fought differently from the generation of Sol Platjie; like them, my generation will NOT wait for approval but will fight for something else, even if we do not have the language of what that thing is. As Holloway (2002: 2) posits, “we do not need to have a picture of what a true world would look like in order to feel that there is something radically wrong with the world that exists”. For sure we know that the way things are is not the life we want. This life where we are dying young! We can’t wait for another Marikana to speak up; we want a life of dignity. The theme of this blog charges us to think of changing our world without seeking power, your insulting lamentations are an example of the limitations of occupying spaces of power ‘on behalf’ of the ‘people’. We, the people, are letting you know that we are not happy, Sir. We, the people! Hear our scream; it is a ‘scream to break windows, a refusal to be contained, an overflowing, a going beyond the pale, beyond the bounds of polite society” (Holloway, 2002: 6).
We will not be loyal when we see that you no longer have the desire or capability to solve issues such as education for my generation. I am on a search for answers and have many questions. Please help me understand.
*Amukelani Mayimele is a young South African leader. Founder of a youth led Development Agency called Zayrah. She is committed to social development of young people and post-conflict reconstruction in Africa.
Holloway, John (2002). “Change the world without taking power”