The Youth of Today
Which way for our young people? That’s the question we ask on our cover this week, with the image of youthful dangling feet ready to embark on their journey towards maturity. Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, in his reflection on page 8 of the September issue of The Southern Cross magazine, considers the situation of the youth in South Africa today.
At a time when the youth unemployment rate stands at an alarming 74%, it is difficult to muster optimism for the future.
In his article, Bishop Sipuka identifies several problems, and these reside with society and governance, but also with young people. And so do the solutions. Obviously, a writer can’t cover the entire scale of cause, effect and solution in one relatively brief article — that would require a book-length treatment — but the bishop is seeking to stimulate what our friends in the world of NGOs might call a “paradigm shift”, a new way of looking at things. We do well to heed his words.
This month’s article by Imelda Diouf on absent fathers illuminates an important angle in the question of how our youth is raised. While many single mothers do heroic work and must not be stigmatised, the absence of fathers in raising children creates relational and economic problems.
These articles made me reflect on the subject of youth in general. Isn’t it true that every older generation looks at the youth of the day, and sees in them a deterioration of conduct and values? It’s pretty safe to say that no matter how old you are, dear reader, in your young days there always were (or are) elders who would sagely shake their heads and sadly exclaim: “The youth of today…”
Indeed, the collective heads of elders have been shaking for the past 2400 years, when the Greek philosopher Socrates thundered: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gulp up all the delicacies on the table, cross their legs, and tyrannise their teachers.” The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr once observed.
But societies do change, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse, and young people reflect these changes. And often they drive them, as we saw in South Africa when the youth reignited the struggle against apartheid in 1976.
Sometimes, young people can teach the older generations a few things. Take the example of several young football stars who are engaged in all manner of activities aimed at improving the lives of others. Every generation should be inspired by the example of the English footballer Marcus Rashford — son of a single mother, incidentally — who supports underprivileged children, through his own money and by using his prominence to support and advocate for the feeding of Britain’s poor children. When the 23-year-old was racially abused for the crime of missing a penalty in a game of football in July, he rose above it with a dignity that undoubtedly gives strength to kids who are themselves subjected to racism. Marcus Rashford is the conscience of a nation which is in dire need of it.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Rashford is a Christian who makes the sign of the cross when he enters the football pitch, and says: “The faith we have in God is shown by the people that we are.” Many young people today are trying to create a better world. Think of global figures such as Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, Isra Hirsi, or South Africa’s Ndlovu Youth Choir.
One might look at the youth today and see their tattoos, strange fashions and attachment to electronic devices, but beneath that, I have found today’s young people to be no less empathetic and polite, and also no less capable of cruelty, than previous generations of youths. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
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