Be a Generation of Hope!
Forty years ago they said: “We want better!” Forty years ago they united and walked from their schools all over Soweto to Orlando Stadium. Forty years ago they were shot down by the police. The Class of ’76.
Twenty-two years ago, they saw that their defiance had born fruit. Twenty-two years ago, they stood in line to vote for a new country. By then they were in their thirties and hoped their children would have a better country.
Today their children and their children’s children live in a different country. Many have become entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers. Many own large and small businesses. Some are in government, trying to make a difference. Some have been able to send their children to better schools. A few have made international headlines as groundbreakers and innovators.
But what about the millions of children who still attend overcrowded schools with questionable standards of education? What about the pupils of Vuwani in Limpopo (and many other places throughout the country) who have seen their schools torched?
What about university students at Fore Hare, Tshwane University of Technology, Cape Town University of Technology, University of Johannesburg, who have had their classes disrupted and infrastructure destroyed? What about the youth who still cannot enter tertiary education for lack of economic access?
Who will fight for them today?
It was with something akin to awe that I watched the disciplined young people demand their rights in a responsible way towards the end of last year. They took on the government and won some concessions. It gave me hope that a new generation of South Africa’s youth would continue to fight to a better life for all.Then the student protest movement lost some of its direction, as it became more militant, allowed itself to be influenced by political rhetoric, and a frustrated violence took hostage many of our country’s tertiary institutions.
Education takes one of the largest slices of our state budget. This year, the government allocated R54 billion for education infrastructure. But none of this seems to be helping matters. How much more will have to be spent to rebuild the schools that are being destroyed in the ongoing service delivery protests?
Communities perceive that the government is not doing anything to alleviate their poverty and suffering — and in the face of the large-scale corruption among the ruling elite, the people are justified in their anger. However, burning schools and the ailing infrastructure that already exists is not the answer. Their actions send the wrong message to our nation’s children.
Where must the Class of 2016 draw their inspiration?
At 35, the sun is setting on my own youth and I get ready to pass on the baton. For years, I’ve worked on various youth programmes, catechism classes, and organised youth meetings.
My contributions have been small in the face of the overwhelming amount of work that is still left to do. I draw my inspiration from the incredible young people I have had the pleasure of meeting and befriending since I started my first youth group at 16.
I draw my inspiration from the woman who fought insurmountable barriers to make it to university. I draw my inspiration from the young people who see beyond themselves and hand out soup to those who live on the streets. I draw inspiration from teenagers who partner up with their counterparts in less privileged areas and help them through their schoolwork, as together both prepare for exams.
I draw my inspiration from the young woman who, after earning her engineering degree, struggled for two years to find work, but tenaciously went to stand at an intersection with her CV written on a piece of cardboard (then Radio 702 heard about her and before day’s end she had an interview).I draw my inspiration from an anonymous young man who in the aftermath of the violent Hammanskraal protests a few weeks ago, took it upon himself to start cleaning up the streets so that cars could circulate and life could return to normal.
I admire each young person who does not lose hope in spite of the many obstacles in their way. I admire the young men and women who overcome selfishness and laziness and use their youthful energy to improve the lives of those around them—even if it is just by picking up the rocks and remnants of burning tyres.
As I hand over the baton, I also raise the challenge: I challenge every Catholic youth group in this country to actively participate in nation building. Come together in your dioceses or deaneries. Encounter each other across the divides that still exist in our country. Get to know each other. Pray together. Sing together. Socialise. Reach out to those of different faiths and share the wealth of our many ways of worshipping God.
But take it further. Do more. Bring your talents and your energy and take up projects that make a positive difference. Raise money to feed the poor and shelter the homeless. Work with communities create vegetable gardens and teach skills that can create employment opportunities.Engage with the youth of every community, helping them to find a hope that is so sorely lacking in our country. Teach self-worth and social responsibility, not in theory, but through concrete actions and real initiatives. Spread faith, hope and love (1 Cor 13:1-13).
Be the generation that changes the ominous course on which we seem to be headed. Be the generation that 40 years from now will be praised by those who come after you for your contribution to this South Africa’s future with the same respect we accord to the youth of 1976.
Be a generation of hope!